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Full text of "The golden windmill : and other stories"

golMn^indmill 

AND OtHER STORIES 



STACY AUMONIER - 




THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 

OF CALIFORNIA 

LOS ANGELES 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

AND OTHER STORIES 



•Tl^^^- 



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

NEW YORK • BOSTON • CHICAGO - DALLAS 
ATLANTA • SAN FRANCISCO 

MACMILLAN & CO., Limited 

LONDON • BOMBAY • CALCUTTA 
MELBOURNE 

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd. 

TORONTO 



THE 
GOLDEN WINDMILL 

AND OTHER STORIES 



BY 

STACY AUMONIER 

Author of 
"One After Another," etc. 



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 
1921 

All rights reserved 



Copyright, 1921. 
By The McCall Company. 

Copyright, 1919 and 1920, 
By The Pictorial Review Company. 

Copyright, 1917, 1918 and 1920. 
By The Century Company. 

Copyright, 1921, 
By the MACMILLAN COMPANY. 



Set up and electrotyped. Published March, 1921. 



(aOOl 



i 



TO 
J. G. 



"iPf^ 



PREFACE 

" Oh, that mine enemy would write a hook — 
of short stories." 

As you know, it is considered rather provocative to 
launch a book of short stories. It is asking for trouble. 
The least I can do is to offer a brief apology; and I 
cannot do this v^^ithout writing a preface, which requires 
an apology in itself. Unless you are a Bernard Shaw 
you find a preface a most embarrassing business. 
Having written the stories I would rather talk about 
anything else — old furniture, for instance. Perhaps 
my best policy will be to start by attacking you, O 
Reader, friend or enemy, as the case may be. You are 
a most exacting fellow. Far more exacting than a 
reader of novels, or works of reference, or even his- 
tories ; for the reason that your criticism follows a more 
circumscribed tradition. You are a kind of gourmet 
whose palate is acutely sensitive to accustomed flavors 
and satieties. It is always easier to be an epicure of 
a small repast than of a banquet. A novel is less easily 
digested. You may enjoy it in parts, or derive satis- 
faction from the matter, or from the manner of tell- 
ing, but with a short story you require a honne houche. 

You have a most arbitrary standard. When you raise 

vii 



viii ' PREFACE 

youT eyes from the last line you pass through a most 
peculiar mental process. It all takes place in a few 
seconds. In a flash you see the shape and form and 
color, the application of the title, the point of the 
whole thing. You demand this, and you also demand 
to have your senses tickled by some cunning solution, 
and to be soothed by something unexpected at the close. 
You observe it as a whole, in the same way that you 
would observe a water-color sketch, or a Sheraton chair. 
You may afterwards further examine the sketch, and 
even sit on the chair, but their appeal to you depends 
on that first glance. Otherwise you turn away, a dis- 
satisfied and disgruntled gourmet. To-morrow you will 
dine elsewhere. The truth is your sense of tradition 
had been outraged. 

Fortunately for you, and for me, tradition is a fine 
thing. Nothing comes out of the blue, except perhaps 
thunderbolts and they are not really very useful things, 
certainly no good to any one trying to create, Chip- 
pendale, Sheraton, or Heppelwhite were all men of 
strong individuality. You could never mistake a 
Sheraton chair for a Chippendale, or a Chippendale 
for a Heppelwhite ; and yet they were all craftsmen who 
worked on strictly traditional lines. The same may be 
said of Turgenev, Guy de Maupassant, Joseph Con- 
rad and Tchekoff. Please do not think that I am men- 
tioning my own short stories in the same breath with 
the stories of these giants. I only want to point out 
to you that those of us who desire to write them have a 
noble tradition to follow. You may argue that the 



PREFACE ix 

analogy between the making of a chair and the crea- 
tion of a short story is rather far-fetched for the reason 
tliat the plan of a chair has long since been fixed and 
determined by the nature of the seated attitude; that 
until we find a new way of sitting down the plan of 
the chair must remain the same; whereas the short 
story may wander at random over the wide fields of 
human nature. To this I will reply — Has human na- 
ture altered perceptibly more than the nature of the 
seated attitude ? You are bound to agree with me that 
it hasn't. The Arabs — who have always been the 
best story tellers — have stated that there are only seven 
stories in the world. The complications of what is 
called Social Progi-ess have not increased the number. 
They have rather restricted it. The emotions can do 
no more with dollars and girders than they used to be 
able to do with magic carpets and languishing houris. 
People love, hate, struggle and fructify, and to set down 
their story is a nice respectable craft with a fine old 
tradition — very like chairmaking. 

The two crafts have another point in common. It 
is the business of them both to make you comfortable. 
When I start reading a story by Tchekoff I feel com- 
fortable at once. On quite a different plane I feel the 
same with that remarkable story-teller, O. Henry. 
They may shock me, or thrill me, or delight me, but 
I know it's going to be all right. My sense of tradi- 
tion will not be outraged. Tchekoff may give me that 
accustomed sense of satiety by a mere turn of a phrase ; 
O. Henry by some amazing double surprise. But I 



X PREFACE 

know all the time that there will be nothing to worry- 
about. 

In these stories, then, I have merely tried to be a 
good apprentice to skilled craftsmen. I claim for them 
no originality at all. Though their setting is entirely 
modern, and they deal with such things as fried-fish 
shops, and public-houses, and the like, they are just the 
same old seven stories told in the bazaars of Ispahan 
three thousand years ago.; 

If through them all you feel something which links 
them together, which moreover makes you and me more 
intimate with each other, then I shall feel as happy as 
Sheraton's apprentice must have felt when some noble 
patron of the master's stopped in the workshops to give 
him a word of encouragement. 

Stacy Aumonier. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

TiiK Golden Windmill 3 

A Source of Irritation 35 

The Brothers 59 

" Old Iron " '^9 

Little White Frock 109 

A Good Action 137 

Them Others 169 

The Bent Tree 199 

The Great Unimpressionable 213 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

AT the top of the hill the party halted. It had 
been a long trek up and the sun was hot. Mon- 
sieur Roget fanned himself with his hat, and 
his eye alighted on a large pile of cut fern-leaves. 

" But this will suit me admirably ! " he remarked, 
and he plumped his squat little figure down, and tak- 
ing out his large English pipe he began to stuff tobacco 
into it. 

" My little one," said his stout wife, " I should not 
advise you to go to sleep. You know that to do so in 
the afternoon always gives you an indisposition." 

" Oh, la la ! 'No, no, no, I do not go to sleep, but 
— this position suits me admirably ! " he replied. 

" Oh, papa, papa ! . . . lazybones ! " exclaimed his 
pretty daughter Louise. " And if we leave you, you 
will sleep like a dormouse." 

" It is very hot! " rejoined the father. 

" Leave him alone," said Madame Roget, " and we 
will go down to that place that looks like an inn, and see 
whether they will sell us milk. Where is Lisette ? " 

" Lisette ! Where should she be ? " 

And of course it was foolish to ask. Lisette, the 
younger daughter, had been lost in the wood on the 
way up, with her fiance, Paul Fasquelle. Indeed, the 



4 THE GOLDEN" WINDMILL 

party had all become rather scattered. It is a pecul- 
iarity of picnics. Monsieur Roget's eldest son, Anton, 
was playing at see-saw with his three children on the 
trunk of a fallen tree. His wife was talking to Madame 
Aubert, and occasionally glancing up to exclaim: 

" Careful, my darlings ! " 

Monsieur Roget was left alone. 

He lighted his pipe, and blinked at the sun. One 
has to have reached a mature age to appreciate to the 
full the narcotic seductiveness of good tobacco on the 
system, when the sun is shining and there is no wind. 
If there is wind all the pleasant memories and dreams 
are blown away, but if there is no wind the sun be- 
comes a kind, confidential old fellow. He is very, very 
mature. And Monsieur Roget was mature. He was 
fifty-nine years old, given to corpulence, rather moist 
and hot, but eminently comfortable leaning against the 
pile of ferns. A glorious view across the woods of 
Eontainebleau lay stretched before him, the bees droned 
in the young gorse, his senses tingled with a pleasurable 
excitement, and, as a man will in such moments, he en- 
joyed a sudden crystallized epitome of his whole life. 
His struggles, and failures, and successes. On the 
whole he had been a successful man. If he died to- 
morrow, his beloved ones would be left in more than 
comfort. Many thousand francs carefully invested, 
some house-property in the Rue Renoir, the three comes- 
tibles establishments all doing reasonably well. 

Things had not always been like that. There had 
been long years of anxiety, worry and even poverty. 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 5 

He had worked hard and it had been a bitter struggle. 
When the children ivere children, that had been the 
anxious time. It made Monsieur Roget shudder to look 
back on it. But, God be praised ! he had been fortunate, 
very fortunate in his life-companion. During that 
anxious time, Madame Eoget had been patient, encour- 
aging, incredibly thrifty, competent, resourceful, a 
loyal wife, a very — Frenchwoman. And they had 
come through. He was now a proud grandfather. 
Both his sons were doing well, and were married. 
Lisette was engaged to a very desirable young advo- 
cate. Of Louise there need be no apprehension. In 
fact, everything. . . . 

" Name of a dog ! that's very curious," suddenly 
thought Monsieur Roget, interrupting his own pleasant 
reflections. 

And for some minutes he could not determine exactly 
what it was that was curious. He had been idly gaz- 
ing at the clump of buildings lower down the hill, 
whither his wife and daughter had gone in search, of 
milk. Perhaps the perfume of the young gorse had 
something to do with it, but as he looked at the build- 
ings, he thought: 

" It's very familiar, and it's very unfamiliar. In 
fact, it's gone wrong. They've been monkeying with 
that gable on the east side, and they've built a new loft 
over the stables." 

But how should he know? What was the gable to 
him? or he to the gable? He drew in a large mouth- 
ful of smoke, held it for some seconds, and then blew 



6 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

it out in a cloud round his head. Where was this? 
When had he been here before? They had driven out 
to a village called Pavane-en-Bois, and from there they 
had walked, and walked, and walked. He may have 
been here before, and have come from another direc- 
tion. . . . 

" Oo-eh ! " 

Monsieur Roget was glad that he was alone when he 
uttered this exclamation, which cannot convey what it 
is meant to in print. Of course, across there on the 
other side of the clearing was the low stone wall, and 
the reliquary with the figure of the Virgin, and doubt- 
less at the bottom of the slope the other side would be 

— the well ! 

It was exactly on this spot that he had met Diane 

— God in heaven ! how long ago ? Ten, twenty, thirty. 
. . . Exactly thirty-seven years ago ! 

And how vividly it could all come back to one 1 
He was twenty-two then, a slim young man — con- 
sidered elegant and rather distinguished-looking by some 
people — an orphan, without either brothers or sisters, 
the inheritor of a quite substantial competence from 
his father, who had been a ship-broker at Marseilles. 
He had gone to Paris to educate himself and to pre- 
pare for a commercial career. He was a serious young 
man, with modest ambitions, rather moody and given to 
abstract speculations. Paris bewildered him, and he 
used to escape when he could, and seek solitude in the 
country. At length he decided that he must settle down 
to some definite career, and he became articled to a 



thp: golden windmill 7 

firm of chartered accountants: Messrs. Manson et Cie. 
He took rooms at a quiet pension near the Luxembourg, 
and there fell in love with his patron's daughter, Lucile, 
a demure and modest brunette. The affair was almost 
settled, but not quite. Monsieur Roget, even in those 
days, was a man who never put his leg over the wall 
till he had seen the other side. He was circumspect, 
cautious, and there was indeed plenty of time. 

And then one day he had found himself on this iden- 
tical hillock. He could not quite clearly remember how 
he came to be there. Probably he had come for the 
day, to escape the clamor of Paris. He certainly had 
no luggage. He was seated on this spot, dreaming and 
enjoying the view, when he heard a cry coming from 
the other side of the low stone wall. He jumped up 
and ran to it, and lo! on the other side he beheld — 
Diane! The name was peculiarly appropriate. She 
was lying there on her side like a wounded huntress. 
"When she caught sight of him she called out: 

" Ah, monsieur, will you be so kind as to help me ? I 
fear I have sprained my ankle." 

Paul Roget leapt the wall and ran to her assistance. 
(The thought of leaping a wall now made him gasp!) 
He lifted her up, trembling himself, and making sym- 
pathetic little clucks with his tongue. 

" Pardon, pardon ! very distressing ! " he munnured, 
when she stood erect. 

" If monsieur will be good enough to allow me to 
rest my hand on his shoulder, I shall be able to hop 
back to the auherge." 



8 THE GOLDEK WINDMILL 

" With the greatest pleasure. Allow me." 

On the ground was an upturned pail. He remarked : 

" Would it distress mademoiselle to stand for one 
minute, whilst I re-fill the pail ? " 

" Oh, no, no," she exclaimed.. " Do not inconven- 
ience yourself." 

" Then perhaps mademoiselle will allow me to return 
for the pail ? " 

" Oh, no, if you please ! My father will do it." 

She leant on his shoulder and hopped a dozen paces. 

" How did it happen, mademoiselle ? " 

" Imbecile that I am ! I think I was dreaming. I 
had filled the pail and was descending the embankment 
when I slipped. I tried to step across the pail, but 
caught my foot in the rim. And then — I don't know 
quite what happened. I fell. It is the other ankle 
which I fear I have sprained." 

" I am indeed most desolated. Is it far to the inn ? " 

" You see it yonder, monsieur. It is perhaps ten 
minutes' walk, but twenty minutes' hop." 

She laughed gayly, and Monsieur Roget said sol- 
emnly : 

" If I might suggest it — I think it would be more 
comfortable for Mademoiselle if she would condescend 
to place her arm round my neck." 

" It is too good of you." 

They proceeded another hundred paces in silence, 
and then rested against a stile. Suddenly she gave 
him one of her quick glances, and said: 

" You are very silent, monsieur." 



THE GOLDEX WINDMILL 9 



>> 



" I was thinking — how very beautiful the day is. 

As a matter of fact, he was not thinking anything of 
the sort. He was in a fever. He was thinking how 
very beautiful, adorable, attractive this lovely wild 
creature was hanging round his neck. He had never 
before adventured such an experience. He had never 
kissed Lucile. Women were an unopened book to him, 
and lo! suddenly the most captivating of her sex was 
clinging to him. He felt the pressure of her soft 
brown forearm on the back of his neck. Her little 
teeth were parted with smiles, and she panted gently 
with the exertion of hopping. Her dark eyes searched 
his, and appeared to be slightly mocking, amused, inter- 
ested. 

" If only I might pick her up and carry her," he 
thought, but he did not dare to mate the suggestion. 

Once she remarked : 

" Oh, but I am tired," and he thought she looked at 
him slyly. 

The journey must have occupied half-an-hour, and 
she told him a little about herself. She lived with her 
father. Her mother had died when she was a baby. 
It was quite a small inn, frequented by charcoal-burners 
and woodmen, and occasionally by visitors from Paris. 
She liked the country very much, but sometimes it was 
dull — oh, dull, dull, dull ! 

" Ah, it is sometimes dull, even in Paris ! " sighed 
Monsieur Roget. 

" You must come and speak to my father, and take 
a glass of wine," she remarked. 



10 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

In the forecourt of the inn the father appeared. 

" Hullo ! " he exclaimed. " What is all this ? " 

He was a rubicund, heavy-jo wled gentleman, who by 
the wheezy exhalations coming from his chest gave the 
impression of being a chronic sufferer from asthma. 
Diane laughed. 

" I have been through fire and water, my dear," she 
said, " and this is my deliverer." 

She explained the whole episode to the landlord, who 
shook hands with Paul, and they led the girl into a 
sitting-room at the back of the cafe. Paul was some- 
what diffident about entering this private apartment, 
but the landlord wheezed: 

" Come in, come in, monsieur." 

They sat Diane down on a sofa, and the landlord 
pulled off her stocking. In doing so he revealed his 
daughter's leg as far as the knee. She had a very 
pretty leg, but the ankle was considerably swollen. 

" The ankle is sprained," said the landlord. 

" Will you allow me to go and fetch a doctor ? " 
asked Paul. 

" It is not necessary," replied the landlord. " I 
know all about sprained ankles. When I was in the 
anny I served in the ambulance brigade. W^e will 
just bind it up very tight with cold linen bandages. 
Does it hurt, little one ? " 

" Not very — yet. It tingles. I feel that it may. 
Won't you offer Monsieur — I do not know his name 
— some refreshment ? " 

" Monsieur Paul Koget," said that gentleman, bow- 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 11 

ing. " But please do not consider me. The sufferer 
must be attended first. Later on, I would like to be 
permitted to partake of a little lunch in the inn." 

While the landlord, whose name was Jules Couturier, 
was binding up his daughter's ankle, Paul slipped out 
and returned to the well, filled the pail, and brought it 
back to the yard of the inn. 

" But this is extremely agreeable of you, monsieur," 
exclaimed the landlord, as he came bustling through the 
porch. " She will do well. I know all about sprained 
ankles. Oh, yes! I have had great experience. I beg 
you to share a little lunch with us. We are quite 
simple folk, but I think we may find you an omelette 
and a ragout. Quite country people, you know ; noth- 
ing elaborate." 

The lunch was excellent, and Diane had the sofa 
drawn up to the table, and in spite of the pain she 
must have been suffering, she laughed and joked, and 
they were quite a merry party. After lunch he helped 
to wheel her out into the crab-apple orchard at thd 
back, and he told her all about himself, his life and 
work, and ambitions. He told her everything, except 
perhaps about Lucile. And he felt very strange, ele- 
vated, excited. 

When the evening came he left it till too late to catch 
the train back to Paris, and the landlord lent him some 
things and he stayed the night. 

He stayed three nights, and wrote to Messrs. Manson 
et Cie, and explained that he had gone to Pavane-en- 
Bois, and had been taken ill. He wrote the same thing 



12 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

to Lucile. And during the day lie talked to Diane, 
and listened to the landlord. Sometimes he would 
wander into the woods, but he could not bring himself 
to stay away for long. He brought back armfuls of 
flowers which he flung across her lap. He touched her 
hands, and trembled, and at night in bed he choked 
with a kind of ecstasy and regret. It was horribly 
distracting. He did not know how to act. He was 
behaving badly to Lucile, and dishonorably to Manson 
et Cie. His conscience smote him, but the other little 
fiend was dancing at the back of his mind. Nothing 
else seemed to matter. He was mad — madly in love 
with this little dark-eyed huntress. 

At the end of three days he returned to Paris, but 
not till he had promised to come back at the earliest 
opportunity. 

" Perhaps I will go again in August," he sighed in 
the train. It was then the seventh of June. 

On the fifteenth of June he was back again in the 
" Moulin d'Or." Diane was already much better. 
She could hobble about alone with the help of two 
sticks. She was more bewitching than ever. He 
stayed three weeks, till her ankle was quite well, and 
they could go for walks together in the woods. And 
he called her Diane, and she called him Paul. And 
one day, as the sun was setting, he flung his arms 
round her and gasped: 

" Diane . . - Diane ! I love you ! " 

And he kissed her on the lips, and her roguish eyes 
searched his. 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 13 

" Oh, you ! " she murmured. " You bad boy . . . 
you ! " 

" But I love you, Diane. I want you. I can't live 
without you. You must come away with me. We will 
get married. We will build a world of our own. Oh, 
you beautiful ! Tell me you love me, or I shall go 
mad ! " 

She laughed that low, gurgling, silvery laugh of 
hers. 

" What are you saying ? " she said. " How should I 
know ? I think you are — a nice boy. But I cannot 
leave my father." 

" My dear, he managed all the time you had to lie 
with your foot up. Don't torture me ! Oh, you must 
love me, Diane. I couldn't love you so much if you 
didn't love me a little in return/' 

" Perhaps I do," she said, smiling. 

"What is it, then, Diane?" 

" Oh, I don't know. I do not want to marry. I 
want to be free, to see the world. I am ambitious. I 
have been to the conservatoire at Souboise. They say 
I can sing and dance. My father has spent his savings 
on me." 

" Darling, if you marry me, you shall be free. You 
shall do as you like. You shall dance and sing and 
see the world. Everything of mine shall be yours if 
only you will love me. You must — you must. 
Diane! " 

"Well . . . we shall see. Come; father will be 
anxious." 



14 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

In July he left his pension and moved out to Mont- 
mar tre. He had never definitely proposed to Lucile, 
but his expressions of affection had been so definite that 
he felt ashamed. He spent his holiday in August at the 
" Moulin d'Or." And Diane promised to marry him 
" one day." 

" Diane," he said, " I will work for you. You have 
inspired me. I shall go back to Paris and think of you 
all day, and dream of you all night." 

" That won't give you much time to make your 
fortune, my little cabbage." 

" Do not mock me. Where would you like to live ? " 

" In Paris, in Nice, in Rome, in Vienna. And then, 
one day, I would like to creep back here and just live in 
the ' Moulin d'Or.' " 

" The ' Moulin d'Or ' ? " 

" Oh, we could improve it. We could build an 
extra wing, with a dancing-hall, and more nice bed- 
rooms, and a garage. We could improve the inn, but 
we could not improve these beautiful hills. Isn't that 
true, little friend ? " 

" Nothing could be improved where you are. You 
are perfection." 

"Yes, but—" 

In September Diane came to Paris. She stayed with 
an aunt in Parnasse, and attended a consei-vatoire of 
dancing. And every evening Paul called on her, and 
took her flowers and chocolates and trinkets. And in 
the daytime, when the image of Diane's face did not 
interpose between his eyes and his desk, he worked 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 15 

hard. He meant to work hard and become a rich man, 
and take Diane to Nice, and Rome, and Vienna, and 
make the structural alterations to the " Moulin d'Or." 

In a few months' time Diane made such progress 
that she was oflfered an engagement in the ballet at 
Olympia. She accepted it and Paul was consumed with 
a fever of apprehension. Every night he went to the 
performance, waited for her, and escorted her home. 
But he disliked the atmosphere of the music-hall in- 
tensely, and the other girls, Diane's companions — 
Heaven defend her ! 

And then she quarreled with her aunt, and Paul be- 
sought her to marry him so that he might protect her. 
But she prevaricated, and in the end he took some rooms 
for her, and she consented to allow him to pay for 
them. She lived there for several weeks alone, only 
attended by an old concierge, and then she took a 
friend, Babette Baroche, to share the rooms with her, 
and Paul still continued to pay. Paul disliked Babette. 
She was a frivolous, vain, empty-headed little cocotte, 
and no fit companion for Diane. On occasions Paul 
discovered other men enjoying the hospitality of the 
rooms, and they were always of an objectionable sort. 
And Diane got into debt, and he lent her four hundred 
francs. 

At Christmas-time she was dismissed from her en- 
gagement, and in a pei^icacious mood she promised 
to marry him in the spring. Paul was delirious. 
Nothing was good enough for his Diane, and he en- 
gaged a complete flat for her, with the services of an 



16 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

elderly honne. Diane was very grateful and loving, 
and in the transition Babette was dropped. However, 
a few weeks after he had signed the lease, she was 
offered an engagement for a tour, and after a lengthy 
dispute and many tears, she had her way and accepted 
it. She was away three months, and Paul was con- 
sumed with dread, and doubt, and gloomy forebodings. 
On occasions he dashed down to Lyons, or Grenoble, 
or wherever she happened to be, for the week-end. 
And he thought that the company she was with were a 
very fast lot. 

" But, my angel," he would exclaim, " only another 
month or two, and all this will be over. You will be 
mine forever and ever." 

He was still paying the rent of the flat in Paris, and 
it was necessary to send Diane flowers and presents 
wherever she was. It was an expensive time, par- 
ticularly as, owing to Diane having had her purse 
stolen just when she was paying off a debt, he had to 
send her another four hundred francs. She returned 
at the end of March, and so great had been her success 
on tour that an egregious, oily manager named Bonnat 
offered her a part in a new revue. She received a good 
salary, but the management would not supply her frocks. 
It was necessary to dress well for this part. It was 
her first real chance. She ransacked shops in the Rue 
de Tivoli, and Paul accompanied her. Eventually she 
spent twelve hundred francs on them, and Paul ad- 
vanced the money. She only allowed him to do so on 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 17 

the understanding that she paid him back by install- 
ments out of her salary. It is needless to say that she 
never did so. However, the frocks were a great suc- 
cess, and Diane made a hit. She was undoubtedly 
talented. She danced beautifully, and she had a gift 
of imitation. She very quickly became a star, and of 
course a star could not scintillate in the poky little flat 
she had so far occupied. She moved to a more fashion- 
able quarter, and occupied a flat the rent of which was 
rather more than her salary alone. She developed more 
expensive tastes, and nearly always kept a taxicab wait- 
ing for her at stage-doors and restaurants. 

At this time Paul began to realize that he was living 
considerably above his income. It would be necessary 
to reduce it by breaking into his capital. He sold some 
house property and paid Diane's debts and bought her 
a pearl pendant. 

" Next month she will be ray wife," he thought, 
" and then I shall be able more easily to curb these 
extravagancies." 

But when the next month came Diane was at the 
height of her success. She had been given more to 
do in the revue, and her imitations were drawing the 
town. The management raised her salary. Her head 
was completely turned. 

" Oh, no, no, no ! dear heart," she exclaimed. " Not 
this month. At the end of the season. It would be im- 
becile when I have all Paris at my feet." 

Paul begged and urged her to reconsider, but she 



18 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

was obdurate. She continued the same life, only that 
her tastes became more and more extravagant. And 
one day Paul took her to task. 

"My angel-flower," he said, "we must not go on 
like this. All the savings for our wedding are vanish- 
ing. I am eating into my capital. We shall be 
ruined." 

" But, my little love," replied Diane, " I spend so 
little. Why, you should see the electric brougham 
Zenie at the Folies Bergeres has. Besides, next year, or 
perhaps before, they will have to double my salary." 

" Yes, but in the meantime — ? " 

"In the meantime your little girl shall kiss away 
your naughty fears." 

And of course Diane soon had an electric brougham 
of her own. The more salary she had, the more it 
seemed to cost Paul. He was receiving merely a nom- 
inal salary himself from Messrs. Manson et Cie, where 
he was little more than a pupil. However, at that 
time he managed to get a small increase, and invested a 
good bulk of his patrimony in a rubber company that 
a very astute business friend advised him about. If 
the shares went up considerably he might sell out, and 
reimburse himself for all these inroads on his capital. 

In the meantime a disturbing element crept into his 
love affair. A depraved young fop, the Marquis de 
Lavernal, appeared on the scene. He was one of those 
young men who have plenty of money and frequent 
stage-doors. He was introduced by Babette, whom he 
almost immediately forsook for Diane. He called upon 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 19 

her, left more expensive flowers and chocolates than 
Paul could afford, and one day took her to Longchamps 
in his car. 

Paul was furious. 

" This man must not come here," he exclaimed. " I 
shall kill him!" 

" Oo-oh ! but why ? He is quite a nice boy. He is 
nothing to me. He is Babette's friend," 

" I don't trust him. I won't have him here. Do 
you understand, Diane ? I love you so, I am distracted 
when that kind of person speaks to you ! " 

" Oo-oh ! " 

Diane promised not to see him again alone, but Paul 
was dubious. The trouble was that he did not know 
what went on in the daytime. In the evening he could 
to a certain extent protect her. But in tlie daytime — 
that raven ! that ogi-e ! that blood-sucker ! He was the 
kind of man who had the entree of all theaters, both 
the back and the front. He went about with parties of 
girls. Diane explained that it was impossible some- 
times not to meet him. He was always with her 
friends. 

At the end of July Paul had a stroke of fortune. 
The rubber shares he had bought went up with a great 
boom, quite suddenly. He sold out and netted a con- 
siderable sum. And then he had a brilliant inspiration. 
He would tell Diane nothing of this. He had plans of 
his own. 

One day he took the train and went down to see his 
prospective father-in-law at the " Moulin d'Or." Tlie 



20 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

old man was wheezier than ever, but very cordial and 
friendly. 

" Well, my boy, how goes it ? " he asked. 

" Excellently," said Paul. " Now, father-in-law, I 
have a proposition to make. Diane and I are to be 
married after the summer season. It has always been 
her ambition to live at the ' Moulin d'Or.' But she 
has spoken of improvements. I want to suggest to you 
with all respect that you allow me to make those im- 
provements. I would like to do it without her know- 
ing it, and then to bring her down as a great surprise." 

" Well, well, very agreeable, I'm sure. And why 
not? It would be very charming! " 

" I suggest building a new wing, with a dancing-hall 
and several nice bedrooms, and a garage; and laying 
out the gardens more suitably." 

" Well, good ! It would be very desirable, and con- 
ducive to good business. You may rely upon me to 
assist you in your project, Monsieur Paul." 

" I am indeed grateful to you, Monsieur Couturier." 

Paul returned to Paris in high spirits. He made 
l)lans of the suggested alterations on the back of an 
envelope, in the train. The next morning he went to 
an eminent firm of contractors. So feverish was he in 
his demands that he persuaded them to send a manager 
down that very day to take particulars and prepare 
the estimate. The work was commenced the same 
week. 

In the meantime, Diane had bought some expensive 
little dogs, because Fleurie at the Odeon kept expensive 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 21 

little dogs, and a new silver tea-service because Lucie 
Castille at the Moulin Rouge had a silver tea-service. 
And Paul was surprised because neither of the accounts 
for these luxuries was sent to him. Diane said she 
had paid for them herself, but the little demons of 
jealousy were still gnawing away at his heart. 

The revue was to terminate at the end of the third 
week in August, and Paul said: 

" And then, my love, we will mai'r}'^ quietly in Paris, 
and then we will do the grand tour. We will go to 
Nice, and Rome, and Vienna, and commence our eter- 
nal honeymoon at the ' Moulin d'Or.' " 

Diane clapped her hands. 

" Won't that be beautiful, my beloved ! " she ex- 
claimed, and she twined her sinuous arms around his 
neck. " Fancy ! just you and I alone at the dear 
' Moulin d'Or ! Ah ! and then we will go to Venice, 
and to Munich. Good gracious ! It will be soon time 
to think about the frocks and trousseau ! " 

Paul's heart swelled. The trousseau ! Diane was be- 
coming serious. There had been moments when he had 
doubted whether she meant to marry him at all, but 
— the trousseau! Why, yes, the matter must be at- 
tended to at once. They spent three weeks buying 
Diane's trousseau. Nearly every day she thought of 
something fresh, some little trifle that was quite indis- 
pensable. When the bills came in they amounted to 
twenty-two thousand francs ! Paul was aghast. He 
had no idea it was possible to spend so much on those 
flimsy fabrics. And furniture had yet to be 2>ur- 



22 THE GOLDEN WIIs^DMILL 

chased. He went to his astute business friend again, 
and begged for some enticing investment. He was 
recommended a Nicaraguan Company that was just 
starting. They had acquired the rights of a new 
method of refining oih It was going to be a big thing. 
With the exception of a sum of money to pay for the 
improvements at the " Moulin d'Or " Paul put prac- 
tically the whole of his capital into the Nicaraguan 
Company. 

l^early every day he called at the contractor's, or 
sent frenzied telegrams to Monsieur Couturier to in- 
quire how the work was progressing. At length he 
received a verbal promise that the whole thing would 
be completed by about the twentieth of September. 

Excellent ! That would fit in admirably. It would 
give him a month's honeymoon with his beautiful 
Diane, and then, one glorious September evening, he 
would drive up the hill, and jumping out of the car 
in the new drive he would be able to exclaim : 

" Behold ! Do not all your dreams come true ? " 

And Diane would fling her arms round his neck, and 
the old father would come toddling out and find them in 
that position, and he would probably weep, and it would 
all be very beautiful.. 

A few days later there was a rather distressing in- 
cident. Quite on her own responsibility Diane ordered 
a suite of Louis XVI furniture. They were fabulously 
expensive copies. Paul had nothing like enough money 
to pay for it. He did not want to sell his Nicaraguan 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 23 

shares. In fact, he had only just applied for them. 
He protested vehemently: 

" But, my dear, you ought not to have done this ! 
It is ruinous. We cannot afford it." 

" But, my Carlo, one must sit down ! " 

" One need not pay fifteen thousand francs to sit 
down!" 

"Oo-oh!" 

Paul knew the evidence of approaching tears, and 
he endeavored to stem the tide. In the end he went 
to a money-lender and borrowed the money at an ab- 
normal rate of interest, and then he went to Diane and 
said : 

" My beloved, you must promise me not to spend 
any more money without my consent. The conse- 
quences may be serious. My affairs are already get- 
ting very involved. You must promise me." 

Diane promised, and the next day drove to his office 
in a great state of excitement. Bonnat had been to 
see her. They wanted to take the revue for a two 
months' tour to Brittany and Normandy, commencing 
at Dinard on August 22nd. He had offered her daz- 
zling terms. She simply must go. It might be her 
last chance. The wedding must be postponed till the 
end of October. Paul protested, and they both became 
angry and cried before two other clerks in Messrs. 
Manson's office. They parted without anything being 
settled. When he saw her at night after the theater, 
she had signed the contract. And Paul returned to 



24 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

his rooms, and bit liis pillow with, remorse and grief. 

On the twenty-first of August Diane locked up her 
trousseau, and the furniture, and left with the com- 
pany for Dinard. And Paul wrote to her every day, 
and she replied once a week, and occasionally sent him 
a telegram announcing a prodigious success. Only 
occasionally did he get an opportunity of going to her 
over a week-end. The journeys were very long and he 
resented spending the money. In only one way did he 
derive any satisfaction from that tour. The building 
work — like all building work — could not possibly be 
completed in the time specified. If they had arrived 
there on the twenty-first of September, his beautiful 
Diane would have found the place all bricks and mortar 
and muddle. As it was, it would be comfortably fin- 
ished by the middle of October. 

When not going to Diane he would spend Sunday 
with Monsieur Couturier, who was keenly excited about 
the improvement to his inn. It was going to be very 
good for the business. All the countryside spoke of it. 
The patron of the " Colonne de Bronze," further down 
the hill, was furious, and this was naturally a matter 
of satisfaction to Monsieur Couturier. He was proud 
of and devoted to his future son-in-law. 

At the end of September came the gi-eat blow. Paul 
heard of it first through the newspapers. The Nicara- 
guan Company had failed. The refining process had 
proved efficient, but far more expensive to work than 
any other refining process. The company was wound 
up, and the shareholders received about 2^/^ per cent. 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 25 

on their investments. Paul was practically ruined. 
He would have to pay for the building of the " ^Moulin 
d'Or." Be^'ond that he had only a few thousand francs, 
and he had to meet the promissory note of the money- 
lenders, lie wrote to Diane and confessed the whole 
story. She sent him a telegram which simply said: 
" Courage ! courage ! " 

He wore the telegram inside his shirt for three days, 
till it got rather too dilapidated. Then he concen- 
trated on his work. Yes ! he would have courage. He 
would build up again. Diane trusted him. In any 
case, they could sell the furniture and go and live at 
the " Moulin d'Or." He wrote her long letters full 
of his schemes. On October the twelfth the work was 
completed, and he went down and spent two days and 
nights with Monsieur Couturier. Diane was to return 
to Paris on the fifteenth. Monsieur Couturier was full 
of sympathy and courage. They talked far into the 
night of how they would manage. With the increase 
of business assured, the inn would no doubt support 
the three of them. There were great possibilities, and 
Paul was young and energetic. Nothing mattered so 
long as his Diane believed in him. 

The night before he returned to Paris he went for a 
walk in the woods by himself. He visualized the days 
to come, the walks with Diane, the tender moments 
when they held each other's hands; he could see their 
children toddling hand in hand through the woods, 
picking flowers. In an ecstasy he rushed to a thick 
bush, and picked a bunch of red berries. He would 



26 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

take them to Diane. They would be the symbols of 
their new life. Wild flowers from their home, not 
exotic town-bred things. It was all going to be joy 
. . . joy . . . joy! 

He ran back to the inn, and spent a sleepless night, 
dreaming of Diane and the days and nights to come. 

In the morning came a letter from Messrs. Manson 
et Cie. His dealings with the money-lenders had been 
disclosed. His sei'vices were no longer desirable. 

Well, there it was! It would take more than that 
to crush him in his ecstatic mood. He would start 
again. He would begin by helping Monsieur Couturier 
to run the inn. 

He returned to Paris late in the evening. He would 
go to Diane's flat after she had returned from the 
theater. She would be a little sleepy, and comfortable, 
and comforting. She would wear one of those loose, 
clinging, silky things, and she would take him in her 
arms, and he would let down her beautiful dark blue- 
black hair, and then he would make her a coronet of 
the red berries. He would make her his queen. . . . 

He was too agitated to dine that evening. He walked 
the streets of Paris, clasping the red berries wrapped 
in tissue paper. He kept thinking: 

" Now she is resting between the acts. Now she is 
dancing a pas seul in the second act. Now she is giv- 
ing her imitation of Yvette Guilbert. Now she is tak- 
ing a call. Now the manager speaks to her, congrat- 
ulating her — curse him ! Now she awaits her cue to 
go on again." 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 27 

He was infinitely patient. He restrained his wild 
impetus to rush to the theater. lie hung about the 
streets. He meant to stage-manage his effect with dis- 
cretion. He waited some time after the theater was 
closed. Then, very slowly, he walked in the direction 
of her flat. As he mounted the stairs, he began to real- 
ize that he was very exhausted. He wished that he 
had not foregone his dinner. However, after the first 
rapturous meeting with Diane, he would take a glass 
of wine. Very quietly he slipped the key in the lock, 
and let himself in. (He had always had a key to 
Diane's flat, which was in effect his flat.) Directly he 
had passed the door he heard loud sounds of laughter. 
He swore inwardly. How aggravating ! Diane had 
brought home some of her friends ! There were evi- 
dently a good many of them, from the noise and 
ribaldry. In the passage were several bottles and 
glasses. 

He crept along silently to the portiere concealing the 
salon. He could hear Diane's voice. She was speak- 
ing, and after each sentence the company screamed 
with laughter. Ah ! she was entertaining them with 
one of her famous imitations. He stood there and 
listened. He made a tiny crack in the curtain and 
peeped through. Diane was doing a funny little strut, 
and speaking in a peculiar way. He listened and 
watched for three or four minutes before he realized 
the truth of what he saw and heard. And when he did 
realize it, he had to exert his utmost will-power to 
prevent himself from fainting. 



28 THE GOLDEK WIKDMILL 

The person that Diane was imitating was — himself! 

The realization seemed to be bludgeoned into him, 
assisted by a round of ironic cheers. People were call- 
ing out: 

" Bravd! hrava! Diane! " 

He heard Babette say: 

" Where is the little end-of-a-man ? " 

And Diane's voice reply: 

" Oh, he is coming back soon, I believe. I forget 
when." 

A man's voice — he believed it was the Marquis de 
Lavemal's — exclaimed : 

" And when is our Diane going to marry it ? " 

Diane, very emphatically: 

" Do not distress yourself, my dear ; he's lost all his 
money." 

A roar of laughter drowned conversation, and Paul 
groped his way along the passage, still clutching the red 
berries. He reached the door. Then he reconsidered 
the matter. He crept back to her bedroom. He 
placed the berries under the coverlet, and taking a sheet 
of paper, he wrote one word on it : " Good-by." 

He placed this on the berries, and then stole out 
into the night. 

Paul was then twenty-two, and his life was finished. 
He was a crushed and broken man. He wandered the 
streets of Paris all night. He spent hours grimly 
watching the encircling waters of the Seine, the friend 
and comforter of so many broken hearts. At dawn 
he returned to his own apartment. He slept for sev- 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 29 

eral hours, and then woke up in a fever. He was very 
ill for some weeks. 

But. one must not despair forever. At the end of 
that time, ho pulled himself together, and went out 
and sought employment. He eventually got a situation 
as a jimior clerk in a wholesale store, and he went 
back to live at the old pension near the Luxembourg, 
and he resumed his friendship with Lucile. And in 
two years' time he married Lucile. And then his life 
began. His life began. His life began. And lo ! here 
was Lucile walking slowly up the hill, arm-in-arm with 
her daughter Louise. Yes, his life began. . . . 

"Ah! there you are! Wliat did I say? " exclaimed 
Louise. " He's been asleep ! " 

" And we've had such an interesting time," added 
Madame Roget, panting with exertion. " We've been 
to the inn." 

" And there's such a pretty girl there," continued the 
daughter. " You'd fall in love with her, papa." 

" Is she very dark ? " asked Monsieur Roget. 

" Yes, she has blue-black hair and beautiful dark 
eyes." 

"Good God!" 

" I knew he would be interested. She gave us some 
milk, and she has been telling us her story. She's 
quite young, and she owns the inn, although it's very 
hard work to run it, she says. She only has one 
woman and a potman. Her mother was a famous 
actress, who made a lot of money and bought the inn 



30 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 

and improved it. She died when Mademoiselle was 
fifteen." 

" Who was her father ? " 

" I don't know. I rather gather that her father was 
a bad lot. He died, too." 

"How old is she?" 

" Not much more than twenty." 

"Then her mother must have been thirty-nine when 
she died." 

" What makes you say so ? " 

" Of course she must have been. What happened 
to the old man ? " 

" Wliat old man ? " 

" Her grandfather." 

" What are you talking about, papa ? I don't be- 
lieve you're quite awake yet." 

" She must have had a grandfather. Everybody has 
a grandfather." 

" Well, of course. But — " 

" Then he must be either dead or alive." 

" How tiresome you are ! We must be going. The 
others are waiting for us lower down the hill." 

Monsieur Roget struggled to his feet, and shook the 
little dead fronds of fern from his clothes, and his 
wife dusted him down behind. 

" We shall be going back past the inn," she said. 

" The inn ! Why can't we go the other way ? The 
way we came ? " 

" Don't be so absurd. What does it matter ? The 
others are awaiting us." 



THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 31 

They went slowly down the hill, and came in sight 
of the' "Moulin d'Or." 

" Isn't it disgusting, " remarked Louise, " how these 
speculative builders are always spoiling the old inns ? " 

" I don't see it's spoilt," answered her father petu- 
lantly. 

" You are ridiculous, papa ! Any one can see the 
inn isn't half as nice as it was," 

As they approached the forecourt of the inn, a girl 
came out carrying a pail. She had dark eyes, blue- 
black hair, and a swinging carriage. Yes, yes, there 
was no doubt about it. She was the spit and image 
of her mother. 

As she approached she smiled pleasantly, and said : 

" Good evening, mesdames; a pleasant journey. 
Good evening, monsieur." 

The ladies returned a friendly greeting, and Mon- 
sieur Roget suddenly turned to the girl and said: 

" Is your grandfather alive or dead ? " 

She continued smiling, and replied : 

" I do not remember my grandfather, monsieur." 

No, perhaps not ; it was thirty-seven years ago, and 
old Couturier was an old man then. Perhaps not. 

" Papa, can't you see she's going to the well to fetch 
water ? T\Tiy don't you offer to help her ? " 

" Eh ? No, I'm not going. Let her fetch it her- 
self!" 

"Papa!" 

They walked on in silence till well out of hearing, 
when Louise exclaimed : 



32 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 



i( 



Really, papa, I can't understand you. So ungal- 
lant! It's not like you. You ouglit to have offered 
to fetch the water for her, even if she refused." 

" Eh ? Oh, no ! I wasn't going. Very dangerous. 
You might fall down and sprain your ankle. Oh, no ! 
Or she might fall down, or something. It's very slip- 
pery up there by the well. You're not going to get me 
to do it. Let her fetch her own water. Oh, no ! no, no, 



no, no ! " 



" Louise dear," remarked Madame Roget. " Let us 
hurry. Your father is most queer. I always warn 
him, but it is no good. If he sleeps in the afternoon 
he always gets an indisposition." 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 

TO look at old Sam Gates you would never sus- 
pect him of having nei-ves. His sixty-nine 
years of close application to the needs of the 
soil had given him a certain earthy stolidity. To ob- 
serve him hoeing, or thinning out a broad field of tur- 
nips, hardly attracted one's attention. He seemed so 
much part and parcel of the whole scheme. He 
blended into the soil like a glorified swede. Neverthe- 
less, the half-dozen people who claimed his acquaintance 
knew him to be a man who suffered from little moods 
of irritability. 

And on this glorious morning a little incident an- 
noyed him unreasonably. It concerned his niece Ag- 
gie. She was a plump girl with clear blue eyes and a 
face as round and inexpressive as the dumplings for 
which the county was famous. She came slowly across 
the long sweep of the downland and putting down the 
bundle wrapped up in a red handkerchief which con- 
tained his breakfast and dinner, she said: 

" Well, uncle, is there any noos ? " 

Now this may not appear to the casual reader to be a 
remark likely to cause irritation, but it affected old 
Sam Gates as a very silly and unnecessary question. 
It was moreover the constant repetition of it which was 

35 



36 A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 

beginning to anger him. He met his niece twice a day. 
In the morning she brought his bundle of food at seven, 
and when he passed his sister's cottage on the way home 
to tea at five she was invariably hanging about the gate. 
And on each occasion she always said, in exactly the 
same voice: 

" Well, uncle, is there any noos ? " 

" Noos " ! What " noos " should there be ? For 
sixty-nine years he had never lived further than five 
miles from Halvesham. For nearly sixty of those 
years he had bent his back above the soil. There were 
indeed historic occasions: once, for instance, when he 
had married Annie Hachet. And there was the birth 
of his daughter. There was also a famous occasion 
when he had visited London. Once he had been to a 
flower-show at Market Roughborough. He either went 
or didn't go to church on Sundays. He had had many 
interesting chats with Mr. James at " The Cowman," 
and three years ago had sold a pig to Mrs. Waig. But 
he couldn't always have interesting " noos " of this sort 
up his sleeve. Didn't the silly gaffer know that for 
the last three weeks he had been thinning out turnips 
for Mr. Dodge on this very same field ? What " noos " 
could there be? 

He blinked at his niece, and didn't answer. She 
undid the parcel, and said: 

" Mrs. Goping's fowl got out again last night." 

He replied, " Ah ! " in a non-committal manner, and 
began to munch his bread and bacon. His niece picked 
up the handkerchief and humming to herself, walked 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 37 

back across the field. It was a glorious morning, and a 
white sea-mist added to the promise of a hot day. He 
sat there munching, thinking of nothing in particular, 
but gradually subsiding into a mood of placid content. 
He noticed the back of Aggie disappear in the distance. 
It was a mile to the cottage, and a mile and a half to 
Halvesham. Silly things, girls! They were all alike. 
One had to make allowances. He dismissed her from 
his thoughts and took a long swig of tea out of a bottle. 
Insects buzzed lazily. He tapped his pocket to assure 
himself that his pouch of shag was there, and then he 
continued munching. When he had finished, he 
lighted his pipe and stretched himself comfortably. 
He looked along the line of turnips he had thinned, 
and then across the adjoining field of swedes. Silver 
streaks appeared on the sea below the mist. In some 
dim way he felt happy in his solitude amidst this 
sweeping immensity of earth and sea and sky. 

And then something else came to irritate him. It 
was one of " these dratted airyplanes." " Airy- 
planes " were his pet aversion. He could find nothing 
to be said in their favor. Il^asty, noisy, vile-smelling 
things that seared the heavens, and make the earth dan- 
gerous. And every day there seemed to be more and 
more of them. Of course " this old war " was respon- 
sible for a lot of them, he knew. The war was " a 
plaguey noosance." They were short-handed on the 
farm. Beer and tobacco were dear, and Mrs. Stevens' 
nephew had been and got wounded in the foot. 

He turned his attention once more to the turnips. 



38 A SOUECE OF IRRITATIOE" 

But an " airyplane " has an annoying genius for grip- 
ping one's attention. When it appears on the scene, 
however much we dislike it, it has a way of taking 
stage-center; we cannot help constantly looking at it. 
And so it was with old Sam Gates. He spat on his 
hands, and blinked up at the sky. And suddenly the 
aeroplane behaved in a very extraordinary manner. 
It was well over the sea when it seemed to lurch in a 
drunken manner, and skimmed the water. Then it 
shot up at a dangerous angle and zigzagged. It started 
to go farther out, and then turned and made for the 
land. The engines were making a curious grating 
noise. It rose once more, and then suddenly dived 
downwards and came plump down right in the middle 
of Mr. Dodge's field of swedes ! 

Finally, as if not content with this desecration, it 
ran along the ground, ripping and tearing up twenty- 
five yards of good swedes, and then came to a stop. 
Old Sam Gates was in a terrible state. The aeroplane 
was more than a hundred yards away, but he waved his 
arms, and called out: 

" Hi ! you there, you mustn't land in they swedes ! 
They're Mister Dodge's." 

The instant the aeroplane stopped a man leapt out, 
and gazed quickly round. He glanced at Sam Gates, 
and seemed uncertain whether to address him or 
whether to concentrate his attention on the flying-ma- 
chine. The latter arrangement appeared to be his ul- 
timate decision. He dived under the engine, and be- 
came frantically busy. Sam had never seen any one 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION^ 39 

work with such furious energy. But all the same, it 
was not to be tolerated. It was disgraceful. Sam 
shouted out across the field, almost hurrying in his in- 
dignation. When he approached within earshot of the 
aviator, he cried out again: 

" Hi ! you mustn't rest your old airj'plane here. 
You've kicked up all Mr. Dodge's swedes. A nice 
thing you've done ! " 

He was within five yards when suddenly the aviator 
turned and covered him with a revolver! And, speak- 
ing in a sharp, staccato voice, he said : 

" Old grandfather, you must sit down. I am very 
occupied. If you interfere or attempt to go away, I 
shoot you. So ! " 

Sam gazed at the horrid glittering little barrel, and 
gasped. Well, he never! To be threatened with mur- 
der when you're doing your duty in your employer's 
private property ! But, still, perhaps the man was 
mad. A man must be more or less mad to go up in one 
of those crazy things. And life was very sweet on 
that summer morning, in spite of sixty-nine years. He 
sat down among the swedes. 

The aviator was so busy with his cranks and machin- 
ery that he hardly deigned to pay him any attention, 
except to keep the revolver handy. He worked fever- 
ishlv, and Sam sat watching him. At the end of ten 
minutes he seemed to have solved his troubles with the 
machine, but he still seemed very scared. He kept on 
glancing round and out to sea. When his repairs were 
completed, he straightened his back and wiped the 



40 A SOURCE OF IRRITATIOIT 

perspiration from his brow. He was apparently on 
the point of springing back into the machine and going 
off, when a sudden mood of facetiousness, caused by- 
relief from the strain he had endured, came to him. 
He turned to old Sam, and smiled; at the same time 
remarking : 

"Well, old grandfather, and now we shall be all 
right, isn't it?" 

He came close up to Sam, and then suddenly started 
back. 

" Gott ! " he cried. " Paul Jouperts ! " 
Sam gazed at him, bewildered, and the madman 
started talking to him in some foreign tongue. Sam 
shook his head. 

" You no right," he remarked, " to come bargin' 
through they swedes of Mr. Dodge's." 

And then the aviator behaved in a most peculiar man- 
ner. He came up and examined his face very closely, 
and gave a gentle tug at his beard and hair, as if to 
see whether it were real or false. 

" What is your name, old man ? " he said. 
" Sam Gates." 

The aviator muttered some words that sounded some- 
thing like " mare vudish ! " and then turned to his ma- 
chine. He appeared to be dazed and in a great state of 
doubt. He fumbled with some cranks, but kept glanc- 
ing at old Sam. At last he got into the car and started 
the engine. Then he stopped, and sat there deep in 
thought. At last he suddenly sprang out again, and, 
approaching Sam, he said very deliberately : 



A SOUKCE OF lERITATION 41 

" Old grandfather, I shall require you to accompany 



me." 



Sam gasped. 

"Eh?" he said. "What he talkhi' about? 'com- 
pany ? I got these here lines o' tarnips — I be already 
behoind — " 

The disgusting little revolver once more flashed be- 
fore his eyes. 

" There must be no discussion," came the voice. 
"It is necessary that you mount the seat of the car 
without delay. Otherwise I shoot you like the dog 
you are. So ! " 

Old Sam w^as hale and hearty. He had no desire to 
die so ignominiously. The pleasant smell of the 
downland was in his nostrils. Ilis foot was on his na 
tive heath. He mounted the seat of the car, content- 
ing himself with a mutter: 

" Well, that be a noice thing, I must say ! Flyin' 
about the country with all they tarnips on'y half 
thinned — " 

He found himself strapped in. The aviator was in 
a fever of anxiety to get away. The engines made a 
ghastly splutter and noise. The thing started running 
along the ground. Suddenly it shot upwards, giving 
the swedes a last contemptuous kick. At twenty min- 
utes to eight that morning old Sam found himself be- 
ing borne right up above his fields and out to sea ! His 
breath came quickly. He was a little frightened. 

" God forgive me ! " he murmured. 

The thing was so fantastic and sudden, his mind 



42 A SOURCE OF lERITATION 

could not grasp it. He only felt in some vague way 
that he was going to die, and he struggled to attune his 
mind to the change. He offered up a mild prayer to 
God, Who, he felt, must be very near, somewhere up 
in these clouds. Automatically he thought of the vicar 
at Halvesham, and a certain sense of comfort came to 
him at the reflection that on the previous day he had 
taken a " cooking of runner beans " to God's represent- 
ative in that village. He felt calmer after that, but 
the horrid machine seemed to go higher and higher. 
He could not turn in his seat and he could see nothing 
but sea and sky. Of course the man was mad, mad 
as a March hare. Of what earthly use could he be 
to any one? Besides, he had talked pure gibberish, 
and called him Paul Something, when he had already 
told him that his name was Sam. The thing would fall 
down into the sea soon, and they would both be drowned. 
Well, well ! He had reached the three-score years and 
ten. 

He was protected by a screen, but it seemed very 
cold. What on earth would Mr. Dodge say? There 
was no one left to work the land but a fool of a boy 
named Billy Whitehead at Deric's Cross. On, on, on 
they went at a furious pace. His thoughts danced dis- 
connectedly from incidents of his youth, conversations 
with the vicar, hearty meals in the open, a frock his 
sister wore on the day of the postman's wedding, the 
drone of a psalm, the illness of some ewes belonging 
to Mr. Dodge. Everything seemed to be moving very 
rapidly, upsetting his sense of time. He felt out- 



A SOUKCE OF lERITATION 43 

raged and yet at moments there was something entranc- 
ing in the wild experience. He seemed to be living at 
an incredible pace. Perhaps he was really dead, and 
on his way to the Kingdom of God ? Perhaps this was 
the way they took people ? 

After some indefinite period he suddenly caught sight 
of a long strip of land. Was this a foreign country? 
or were they returning? He had by this time lost all 
feeling of fear. He became interested, and almost dis- 
appointed. The " airyplane " was not such a fool as 
it looked. It was very wonderful to be right up in the 
sky like this. His dreams were suddenly disturbed 
by a fearful noise. He thought the machine was blown 
to pieces. It dived and ducked through the air, and 
things were bursting all round it and making an a^vful 
din; and then it went up higher and higher. After a 
while these noises ceased, and he felt the machine glid- 
ing downwards. They were really right above solid 
land, trees, and fields, and streams, and white villages. 
Down, down, down they glided. This was a foreign 
country. There were straight avenues of poplars and 
canals. This was not Halvesham. He felt the thing 
glide gently and bump into a field. Some men ran 
forward and approached them, and the mad aviator 
called out to them. They were mostly fat men in gray 
uniforms, and they all spoke this foreign gibberish. 
Some one came and unstrapped him. He was very 
stiff, and could hardly move. An exceptionally gross- 
looking man punched him in the ribs, and roared with 
laughter. They all stood round and laughed at him, 



44 A SOURCE OF lERITATIOE" 

while the mad aviator talked to them and kept pointing 
at him. Then he said : 

" Old grandfather, jou must come with me." 
He was led to a zinc-roofed building, and shut in a 
little room. There were guards outside with fixed bay- 
onets. After a while the mad aviator appeared again, 
accompanied by two soldiers. He beckoned him to fol- 
low. They marched through a quadrangle and entered 
another building. They went straight into an office 
where a very important-looking man, covered with 
medals, sat in an easy-chair. There was a lot of 
saluting and clicking of heels. 

The aviator pointed at Sam and said something, and 
the man with the medals started at sight of him, and 
then came up and spoke to him in English. 

" What is your name ? Where do you come from ? 
Your age ? The name and birthplace of your parents ? " 
He seemed intensely interested, and also pulled his 
hair and beard to see if they came off. So well and 
naturally did he and the aviator speak English that after 
a voluble cross-examination they drew apart, and con- 
tinued the conversation in that language. And the 
extraordinary conversation was of this nature: 

" It is a most remarkable resemblance," said the man 
with medals. " Unghublich ! V>\\t what do you want 
me to do with him, Hau^semann ? " 

" The idea came to me suddenly, excellency," replied 
the aviator, " and you may consider it worthless. It is 
just this. The resemblance is so amazing. Paul 
Jouperts has given us more valuable information than 



A SOUKCE OF lERITATION 45 

any one at present in our service. And the English 
know that. There is an award of twenty-five thousand 
francs on liis head. Twice they have captured him, 
and each time he escaped. All the company com- 
manders and their staff have his photograph. He is a 
serious thorn in their flesh." 

" Well ? " replied the man with the medals. 

The aviator whispered confidently: 

" Suppose, your excellency, that they found the dead 
body of Paul Jouperts ? " 

" Well ? " replied the big man. 

" My suggestion is this. To-morrow, as you know, 
the English are attacking Hill 701, which we have for 
tactical reasons decided to evacuate. If after the at- 
tack they find the dead body of Paul Jouperts in, say, 
the second lines, they will take no further trouble in 
the matter. You kriow their lack of thoroughness. 
Pardon me, I was two years at Oxford University. 
And consequently Paul Jouperts will be able to — 
prosecute his labors undisturbed." 

The man with the medals twirled his mustache and 
looked thoughtfully at his colleague. 

" Where is Paul at the moment ? " he asked. 

" He is acting as a gardener at the Convent of St. 
Eloise at Mailleton-en-haut, which, as you know, is 
one hundred meters from the headquarters of the British 
central army staff." 

The man with the medals took two or three rapid 
turns up and down the room. Then he said : 

" Your plan is excellent, Hausemann. The only point 



46 A SOURCE OF lERITATION" 

of difficulty is that the attack started this morning." 

" This morning ? " exclaimed the other. 

" Yes. The English attacked unexpectedly at dawn. 
We have already evacuated the first line. We shall 
evacuate the second line at eleven-fifty. It is now 
ten-fifteen. There may be just time." 

He looked suddenly at old Sam in the way that 
a butcher might look at a prize heifer at an agricultural 
show, and remarked casually : 

" Yes, it is a remarkable resemblance. It seems a 
pity not to ... do something with it." 

Then, speaking in German, he added: 

" It is worth trying, and if it succeeds, the higher 
authorities shall hear of your lucky accident and in- 
spiration, Herr Hausemann. Instruct Over-lieutenant 
Schutz to send the old fool by two orderlies to the east 
extremity of trench 38. Keep him there till the order 
of evacuation is given. Then shoot him, but don't dis- 
figure him, and lay him out face upwards." 

The aviator saluted and withdrew, accompanied by 
his victim. Old Sam had not understood the latter part 
of the conversation, and he did not catch quite all that 
was said in English, but he felt that somehow things 
were not becoming too promising, and it was time to 
assert himself. So he remarked when they got outside : 

" ISTow, look'ee here, mister, when be I goin' back to 
my tamips ? " 

And the aviator replied with a pleasant smile: 

"Do not be disturbed, old grandfather; you shall 
. . . get back to the soil quite soon." 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 47 

In a few moments he found himself in a large gi-aj 
car, accompanied by four soldiers. The aviator left 
him. The country was barren and horrible, full of 
great pits and rents, and he could hear the roar of 
artillery and the shriek of shells. Overhead, aeroplanes 
were buzzing angrily. He seemed to be suddenly trans- 
ported from the Kingdom of God to the Pit of Dark- 
ness. He wondered whether the vicar had enjoyed the 
runner-beans. He could not imagine runner-beans 
growing here, runner-beans, ay! or anything else. If 
this w^as a foreign country, give him dear old England. 

Gr-r-r-r — Bang ! Something exploded just at the 
rear of the car. The soldiers ducked, and one of them 
pushed him in the stomach and swore. 

" An ugly-looking lout," he thought. " If I w^as 
twenty years younger I'd give him a punch in the eye 
that 'ud make him sit up." 

The car came to a halt by a broken wall. The party 
hurried out and dived behind a mound. He was pulled 
down a kind of shaft and found himself in a room buried 
right underground, where three officers were drinking 
and smoking. The soldiers saluted and handed a type- 
written dispatch. The officers looked at him drunkenly, 
and one came up and pulled his beard and spat in his 
face, and called him " an old English swine." He then 
shouted out some instructions to the soldiers, and they 
led him out into the narrow trench. One walked be- 
hind him and occasionally prodded him with the butt- 
end of a gim. The trenches were half-full of water, 
and reeked of gases, powder, and decaying matter. 



48 A SOUECE OF IREITATIOX 

Shells were constantly bursting overhead, and in places 
the trenches had crumbled and were nearly blocked 
up. They stumbled on, sometimes falling, sometimes 
dodging moving masses, and occasionally crawling over 
the dead bodies of men. At last they reached a de- 
serted-looking trench, and one of the soldiers pushed him 
into the corner of it and growled something, and 
then disappeared round the angle. Old Sam was ex- 
hausted. He lay panting against the mud wall, 
expecting every minute to be blown to pieces by one 
of those infernal things that seemed to be getting more 
and more insistent. The din went on for nearly twenty 
minutes, and he was alone in the trench. He fancied 
he heard a whistle amidst the din. Suddenly one of 
the soldiers who had accompanied him came stealthily 
round the corner. And there was a look in his eye 
old Sam did not like. When he was within five yards 
the soldier raised his rifle and pointed it at Sam's 
body. Some instinct impelled the old man at that in- 
stant to throw himself forward on his face. As he 
did so, he was conscious of a terrible explosion, and he 
had just time to observe the soldier falling in a heap 
near him, when he lost consciousness. 

His consciousness appeared to return to him with a 
snap. He was lying on a plank in a building, and he 
heard some one say: 

" I believe the old boy's English." 

He looked round. There were a lot of men lying 
there, and others in khaki and white overalls were busy 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 49 

amongst them. He sat up and rubbed his head, and 
said: 

" Hi, mister, where be I now ? " 

Some one laughed, and a young man came up and 
said: 

" Well, old thing, you were very nearly in hell. 
Who the devil are you ? " 

Some one else came up, and the two of them were 
discussing him. One of them said : 

" He's quite all right. He was only knocked out. 
Better take him to the colonel. He may be a spy." 

The other came up, and touched his shoulder, and 
remarked : 

" Can you walk, uncle ? " 

He replied : " Ay, I can walk all right." 

" That's an old sport ! " 

The young man took his arm and helped him out 
of the room, into a courtyard. They entered another 
room, where an elderlv, kind-faced officer was seated at 
a desk. The officer looked up, and exclaimed: 

" Good God ! Bradshaw, do you know who you've 
got there ? " 

The younger one said, " No. Wlio, sir ? " 

"By God! It's Paul Jouperts!" exclaimed the 
colonel. 

" Paul Jouperts ! Great Scott ! " 

The old officer addressed himself to Sam. He said: 

" Well, we've got you once more, Paul. We shall 
have to be a little more careful this time." 



50 A SOURCE OF IRRITATIOi^ 

The young officer said : 

" Shall I detail a squad, sir ? " 

"We can't shoot him without a court-martial," re- 
plied the kind-faced senior. 

Then Sam interpolated : 

" Look'ee here, sir. I'm fair sick of all this. My 
name bean't Paul. My name's Sam. I was a-thinnin' 
a line of tarnips — " 

Both officers burst out laughing, and the younger one 
said: 

" Good ! damn good ! Isn't it amazing, sir, the way 
they not only leam the language, but even take the 
trouble to leam a dialect ? " 

The older man busied himself with some papers. 

" Well, Sam," he remarked, " you shall be given a 
chance to prove your identity. Our methods are less 
drastic than those of your Boche masters. What part 
of England are you supposed to come from ? Let's see 
how much you can bluff us with your topographical 
knowledge." 

" Oi was a-thinnin' a loine o' tarnips this morning at 
'alf-past seven on Mr. Dodge's farm at Halvesham, when 
one o' these 'ere airyplanes come roight down among 
the swedes. I tells 'ee to get clear o' that, when the 
feller what gets owt o' the car, 'e drabs a revowler and 
'e says, ' You must 'company I — ' " 

" Yes, yes," interrupted the senior officer ; " that's all 
very good. "Now tell me — Where is Halvesham? 
What is the name of the local vicar? I'm sure you'd 
know that." 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 51 

Old Sam rubbed his chin. 

" I sits under the Reverend David Pryce, mister, and 
a good God-fearin' man he be. I took him a cookin' o' 
runner-beans on'y yesterday. I works for Mr. Dodge 
what owns Greenway Manor and 'as a stud-farm at 
Newmarket they say." 

" Charles Dodge ? " asked the younger officers. 

" Ay, Charlie Dodge. You write and ask 'un if he 
knows old Sam Gates." 

The two officers looked at each other, and the older 
one looked at Sam more closely. 

" It's very extraordinary," he remarked. 

" Everybody knows Charlie Dodge," added the 
younger officer. 

It was at that moment that a wave of genius swept 
over old Sam. He put his hand to his head, and sud- 
denly jerked out : 

" What's more, I can tell 'ee where this yere Paul is. 
He's actin' a gardener in a convent at — " 

He puckered up his brow and fumbled with his hat, 
and then got out: 

" Mighteno." 

The older officer gasped. 

" Mailleton-en-haut ! Good God ! What makes you 
say that, old man ? " 

Sam tried to give an account of his experience, and 
the things he had heard said by the German officers. 
But he was getting tired, and he broke off in the middle 
to say: 

" Ye haven't a bite o' somethin' to eat, I suppose, 



52 A SOURCE OF IRRITATION" 

mister, and a glass o' beer ? I usually 'as my dinner at 
twelve o'clock." 

Both the officers laughed, and the older said : 
" Get him some food, Bradshaw, and a bottle of beer 
from the mess. We'll keep this old man here. He 
interests me." 

While the younger man was doing this, the chief 
pressed a button and summoned another junior officer. 

" Gateshead," he remarked, " ring up G. H. Q. and 
instruct them to arrest the gardener in that convent at 
the top of the hill, and then to report." 

The officer saluted and went out, and in a few minutes 
a tray of hot food and a large bottle of beer was brought 
to the old man, and he was left alone in the corner of 
the room to negotiate this welcome compensation. And 
in the execution he did himself and his country credit. 
In the meanwhile the officers were very busy. People 
were coming and going and examining maps and tele- 
phone-bells were ringing furiously. They did not dis- 
turb old Sam's gastronomic operations. He cleaned 
up the mess tins and finished the last drop of beer. 
The senior officer found time to offer him a cigarette, 
but he replied : 

" Thank 'ee kindly, but I'd rather smoke my pipe." 

The colonel smiled, and said: 

" Oh, all right. Smoke away." 

He lighted up, and the fumes of the shag permeated 
the room. Some one opened another window, and the 
young officer who had addressed him at first suddenly 
looked at him and exclaimed: 



A SOURCE OF IREITATIOiN" 53 

" Innocent, by God ! You couldn't get shag like that 
anywhere but in Norfolk." 

It must have been over an hour later when another 
officer entered, and saluted. 

" Message from G. H. Q., sir," he said. 

" Well ? " 

" They have arrested the gardener at the convent 
of St. Eloise, and they have every reason to believe that 
he is the notorious Paul Jouperts." 

The colonel stood up, and his eyes beamed. He came 
over to old Sam and shook his hand. 

" Mr. Gates," he said, " you are an old brick.. You 
will probably hear more of this. You have probably 
been the means of delivering something very useful 
into our hands. Your own honor is vindicated. A 
loving government will probably award you five shil- 
lings or a Victoria Cross, or something of that sort. 
In the meantime, what can I do for you ? " 

Old Sam scratched his chin. 

" Oi want to get back 'ome," he said. 

" Well, even that might be arranged." 

" Oi want to get back 'ome in toime for tea." 

" Wliat time do you have tea ? " 

" Foive o'clock or thereabouts." 

" I see." 

A kindly smile came into the eyes of the colonel. 
He turned to another officer standing by the table, and 

said : ' 

" Raikes, is any one going across this afteraoon with 
dispatches ? " 



54 A SOURCE OF IRRITATIOiT 

" Yes, sir," replied the young officer. " Commander 
Jennings is leaving at three o'clock." 

" You might ask him to come and see me." 

Within ten minutes a young man in a flight-com- 
mander's uniform entered. 

" Ah, Jennings," said the colonel, " here is a little 
affair which concerns the honor of the British army. 
My friend here, Sam Gates, has come over from Halve- 
sham in N'orfolk in order to give us valuable informa- 
tion. I have promised him that he shall get home to 
tea at five o'clock. Can you take a passenger ? " 

The young man threw back his head and laughed. 

" Lord ! " he exclaimed. " What an old sport ! Yes, 
I expect I could just manage it. Where is the God- 
forsaken place ? " 

A large ordnance-map of ITorfolk (which had been 
captured from a German officer) was produced, and the 
young man studied it closely. 

At three o'clock precisely old Sam, finding himself 
something of a hero and quite glad to escape from the 
embarrassment which this position entailed, once more 
sped skywards in an " airyplane." 

At twenty minutes to five he landed once more 
amongst Mr. Dodge's swedes. The breezy young air- 
man shook hands with him and departed inland. Old 
Sam sat down and surveyed the field. 

" A noice thing, I must say," he muttered to himself, 
as he looked along the lines of unthinned turnips. He 
still had twenty minutes, and so he went slowly along 
and completed a line which he had commenced in the 



A SOURCE OF IRRITATION^ 55 

morning. He then deliberately packed up his dinner- 
things and his tools, and started out for home. 

As he came round the corner of Still way's Meadow, 
and the cottage came in view, his niece stepped out of 
the copse with a basket on her arm. 

" Well, uncle," she said, " is there any noos ? " 

It was then that old Sam became really irritated. 

" Noos ! " he said. " Noos ! drat the girl ! What 
noos should there be? Sixty-nine year I live in these 
here parts, hoein' and weedin' and thinnin', and mindin' 
Charlie Dodge's sheep. Am I one o' these here story- 
book folk havin' noos 'appen to me all the time ? Ain't 
it enough, ye silly dab-faced zany, to earn enough to 
buy a bite o' some' at to eat, and a glass o' beer, and a 
place to rest a's head o'night, without always wantin' 
noos, noos, noos ! I tell 'ee, it's this that leads 'ee 
to 'alf the troubles in the world. Devil take the noos ! " 

And turning his back on her, he went fuming up the 
hill. 



THE BROTHERS 



THE BROTHERS 

IN the twilight of his mind there stirred the dim 
realization of pain. He could not account for 
this nor for his lack of desire to thrust the pain 
back. It was moreover mellowed by the alluring em- 
braces of an enveloping darkness, a darkness which he 
idly desired to pierce, and yet which soothed him with 
its caliginous touch. Some subconscious voice, too, 
kept repeating that it was ridiculous, that he really had 
control, that the darkness was due to the fact that it 
was night, and that he was in his own bed. In the 
room across the passage his mother was sleeping peace- 
fully. And yet the pain, which he could not account 
for, seemed to press him down and to rack his lower 
limbs. There was a soothing interval of utter dark- 
ness and forgetfulness, and then the little waves of 
febrile consciousness began to lap the shores of distant 
dreams, and visions of half-forgotten episodes became 
clear and pregnant. 

He remembered standing by the French window in 
their own dining-room, his mother's dining-room, rap- 
ping his knuckles gently on the panes. Beneath the 
window was the circular bed of hollyhocks just begin- 
ning to flower, and below the terrace the great avenue 

of elms nodding lazily in the sun. He could hear the 

69 



60 THE BROTHEES 

coffee-urn on its brass tripod humming comfortably 
behind him while he waited for his mother to come 
down to breakfast. He was alone, and the newspaper 
in his hand was shaking. War! He could not grasp 
the significance of the mad news that lay trembling on 
the sheets. His mother entered the room, and as he 
hurried across to kiss her he noted the pallor of her 
cheeks. 

They sat down, and she poured him out his coffee 
as she had done ever since he could remember. Then, 
fixing her dark eyes on his and toying restlessly with 
the beads upon her breast, she said : 

" It's true, then, Robin ? " 

He nodded, and his eyes wandered to the disfiguring 
newspaper. He felt as though he were in some way 
responsible for the intrusion of the world calamity into 
the sanctity of his mother's life ; he muttered : 

" It's a dreadful business, mother." 

His gaze wandered again out of the window between 
the row of elms. Geddes, the steward, was walking 
briskly, followed by two collies. Beyond the slope was 
a hay-cart lumbering slowly in the direction of the farm. 
" Parsons is rather late with the clover," he thought. 
He felt a desire to look at things in little bits ; the large 
things seemed overpowering, insupportable. Above all, 
his mother must not suffer. It was dreadful that any 
one should suffer, but most of all his mother. He must 
devote himself to protecting her against the waves of 
foreboding that were already evident on her face. But 
what could he say ? He knew what was uppermost in 



THE BROTHERS 61 

lier mind — Giles ! He had no illusions. He knew 
that his mother adored his elder brother more passion- 
ately than she did himself. It was only natural. He 
too adored Giles. Everybody did. Giles was his hero, 
his god. Ever since he could remember, Giles had 
epitomized to him everything splendid, brave, and chiv- 
alrous. He was so glorious to look at, so strong, so 
manly. The vision of that morning merged into other 
visions of the sim-lit hours with Giles — his pride when 
quite a little boy if Giles would play with him; his 
pride when he saw Giles in flannels, going in to bat 
at cricket ; the terror in his heart when one day he saw 
Giles thrown from a horse, and then the passionate 
tears of love and thankfulness when he saw him rise 
and run laughing after the beast. He remembered that 
when Giles went away to school his mother found him 
ci*ying, and told him he must not be sentimental. But 
he could not help it. He used to visualize the daily 
life of Giles and vTrite to him long letters which his 
brother seldom answered. Of course he did not expect 
Giles to answer; he would have no time. He was one 
of the most popular boys at school and a champion at 
every sport. 

Then the vision of that morning when the newspaper 
brought its disturbing news vanished with the memory 
of his mother standing by his side, her arm round his 
waist, as they gazed together across a field of nodding 
com. . . . 

Troubled visions, then, of Giles returning post-haste 
from Oxford, of himself in the village talking to every 



62 THE BROTHEES 

one he met about " the dreadful business," speaking to 
the people on the fai-m, and to old Joe Walters, the 
wheelwright, whose voice he could remember saying : 
" Av, tha' woan't tak' thee, Master Robin." 
He remembered talking to Mr. Meads at the general 
shop, and to the Reverend Quirk, whose precious voice 
he could almost hear declaiming: 

" I presume your brother will apply for a commis- 
sion." 

He had wandered then up on to the downs and tried to 
think about "the dreadful business" in a detached 
way, but it made him tremble. He listened to the bees 
droning on the heather, and saw the smoke from the 
hamlet over by Wodehurst trailing peacefully to the 
sky. " The dreadful business " seemed incredible. 

It was some days later that he met his friend Jerry 
Lawson wandering up there, with a terrier at his heels. 
Lawson was a sculptor, a queer chap, whom most people 
thought a fanatic. Jerry blazed down on him : 

" This is hell, Robin. Hell let loose. It could have 
been avoided. It's a trade war. At the back of it all 
is business, business, business. And millions of boys 
will be sacrificed for commercial purposes. Our policy 
is just as much at fault as — theirs. Look what we 
did at — " 

For an hour he listened to the diatribe of Lawson, 
tremulously silent. He had nothing to reply. He de- 
tested politics and the subtleties of diplomacy. He had 
left school early owing to an illness which had affected 
his heart. He had spent his life upon these downs 



THE BROTHERS 63 

and among his books. He could not adjust the gentle 
impulses of his being to the violent demands of that 
foreboding hour. When Lawson had departed, he had 
sat there a long time. Was Lawson right ? 

He wandered home, determining that he would read 
more history, more political economy; he would get to 
the root of " this dreadful business." 

He wanted to talk to Giles, to find out what he really 
thought, but the radiant god seemed unapproachable; 
or rode roughshod over the metaphysical doubts of his 
brother, and laughed. Giles had no misgivings. His 
conscience was dynamically secure. Besides, there was 
" the mater." 

" When I go, Rob, you must do all you can to buck 
the mater up." He had looked so splendid when he said 
that, with his keen, strong face, alert and vibrant, Robin 
had not had it in his heart to answer. And then had 
come lonely days, reading news books and occasionally 
talking with Lawson. Wlien Giles went off to his train- 
ing he spent more time with his mother, but they did not 
discuss the dreadful thing which had come into their 
lives. His mother became restlessly busy, making 
strange garments, knitting, attending violently to the 
demands of the household. Sometimes in the evening 
he would read to her, and they would sit trying to hide 
from each other the sound of the rain pattering on the 
leaves outside. He had not dared talk to her of the 
misgivings in his heart or of his arguments with 
Lawson. . . . 

And then a vision came of a certain day in October. 



64r THE BROTHERS 

The wind was blowing the rain in fitful gusts from the 
sea. He was in a sullen, perverse mood. Watching 
his mother's face that morning, a sudden fact concerning 
her had come home to him. It had aged, aged during 
those three months, and the gray hair on that dis- 
tinguished head had turned almost white. He felt 
within him a surging conflict of opposing forces. The 
hour of climacteric had arrived. He must see it once 
and for all clearly and unalterably. He had put on his 
mackintosh then and gone out into the rain. He 
walked up to the long wall by Gray's farm, where on a 
fine day he could see the sea; but not to-day, it was 
too wet and misty ; but he could be conscious of it, and 
feel its breath beating on his temples. 

He stood there, then, for several hours, under the 
protection of the wall, listening to the wind and to the 
gulls who went shrieking before it. He could not re- 
member where he had wandered to after that, except 
that for some time he was leaning on a rock, watching 
the waves crashing over the point at Youlton Bay. And 
then in the evening he had written to Lawson. 

" I want to see this thing in its biggest, broadest 
sense, dear Jerry." 

He knew he had commenced the letter in this way, 
for it was a phrase he had repeated to himself at inter- 
vals. 

" Like you, I hate war and the thought of war. But, 
good heaven! need I say that? Every one must hate 
war, I suppose. I agree with you that human life is 
sacred. . . . But would it be sacred if it stood still ? — 



THE BROTHEES 65 

if it were stagnant? — if it were just a mass affair? 
It is only sacred because it is an expression of spiritual 
evolution. It must change, go on, lead somewhere. . . . 

" Don't you think that we on this island have as great 
a right to fight for what we represent as any other 
nation ? With all our faults and poses and hypocrisies, 
haven't we subscribed something to the commonwealth 
of humanity ? — something of honor, and justice, and 
equity? I don't believe you will deny all this. But 
even if you did, and even if I agreed with you, I still 
should not be convinced that it was not right to fight. 
As I walked up by the chalk-pit near Gueldstone Head, 
and saw the stone-gray cottages at Lulton nestling in 
the hollow of the downs, and smelt the dear salt damp- 
ness of it all, and felt the lovely tenderness of the eve- 
ning light, I thought of Giles and what he represents, 
and of my mother, and what she represents, and of all 
the people I know and love with all their faults, and I 
made up my mind that I would fight for it in any case, 
in the same way that I would fight for a woman I loved, 
even if I knew she were a harlot. . . ." 

Lying there in his bed, these ebullient thoughts re- 
acted on him. Drowsiness stole over his limbs, and he 
felt his heart vibrating oddly. There seemed to be a 
sound of drums, beating a tattoo, of a train rumbling 
along an embankment. And in fancy he was on his 
way to London again, with the memory of his mother's 
eyes as she had said : 

" Come back safely, Robin boy." 

The memory of that day was terrifying indeed. He 



66 THE BROTHERS 

was wandering about a vast building near Whitehall, 
tremulously asking questions, wretchedly conscious that 
people looked at him and laughed. And then that long 
queue of waiting men ! Some were so dirty, so obscene, 
and he felt that most of them were sniggering at him. 
A sergeant spoke sharply, and he shuddered and spilt 
some ink on one of the many forms he had to fill up. 
Every one seemed rough and violent. After many hours 
of waiting he was shown into another room and told to 
strip. He sat on a fonn with a row of other men, feel- 
ing incredibly naked and very much ashamed. The 
window was open and his teeth chattered with the 
cold and the nervous tension of the desperate experience. 
A doctor spoke kindly to him, and an old major at a 
table asked him one or two questions. He was dis- 
missed and waited interminably in another room. At 
last an orderly entered and called his name among some 
others, and handed him a card. He was rejected. 

He returned to Wodehurst that evening shivering 
and in a mood of melancholy dejection. He was an 
outcast among his fellows, a being with a great instinct 
towards expression, but without the power to back it up. 
The whole thing appeared so utterly unheroic, almost 
sordid. He wondered about Giles. If presenting one- 
self at a recruiting office was such a terrifying ordeal, 
what must the actual life of a soldier be? Of course 
Giles was different, but — the monotony, the cheerless- 
ness of barrack life! And then the worse things be- 
yond. 

After that he would devour the papers and tramp 



THE BROTHERS 67 

feverishly on the downs; he tried to obtain work at a 
munition factory, and was refused; made himself ill 
sewing bandages and doing chaotic odd jobs. And all 
the time he thought of Giles, Giles, Giles. Wliat Giles 
was doing, how Giles was looking, whether he was un- 
happy, and whether they spoke to him brusquely, like 
the sergeant had to himself in London. 

Then came the vision of the day when Giles came and 
bade farewell, on his way to France — a terrible day. 
He could not bring himself to look into his mother's 
eyes. He felt that if he did so he would be a trespasser 
peering into the forbidden sanctuary of a holy place. 
He hovered around her and murmured little banalities 
about Giles's kit, the train he was to catch, the parcel 
he was to remember to pick up in London. When it 
came to parting time, he left those two alone and fled 
out to the trap that was to take his brother to the 
station. He had waited there till Giles came, rimning 
and laughing and waving his hand. He drove with 
him to the station, and dared not look back to see his 
mother standing by the window. They were silent till 
the trap had passed a mile beyond the village; then 
Giles had laughed, and talked, and rallied him on his 
gloomy face. 

" I'll soon be back, old man. Buck the mater up, 
won't you? Whoa, Tommy, what are you shying at? 
. . . By jove ! won't it be grand on the sea to-night ! " 

Oh, Giles ! Giles ! was there ever any one so splendid, 
so radiant, so uncrushable ? His heart, went out to his 
brother at that moment, and he could not answer. 



68 THE BROTHERS 

So closely were his own sympathies interwoven with 
the feelings of his brother that he hardly noticed the 
moment of actual separation on the platform. His 
heart was with Giles all the way up to London, then in 
the train again, and upon the sea with him that night. 

In his imagination, quickened by a close study of all 
the literature he could get hold of on the actual condi- 
tions out there, he followed his brother through every 
phase of his new life. He was with him at the base, in 
rest camps, and in dug-outs, and more especially was 
he with him in those zig-zagging trenches smelling of 
dampness and decay. On dark nights he would hear 
the scuttle of rats dashing through the wet holes. He 
would hear the shriek of shells, and the tearing and 
ripping of the earth. He would start up and try to 
make his way through the slime of a battered trench 
which always seemed to be crumbling, crumbling. In 
his nostrils would hang the penetrating smell of gases 
that had the quality of imparting terror. So vivid were 
his impressions of these things that he could not detach 
his own suffering from that of his brother. There were 
times when he became convinced that either he or Giles 
was a chimera. One of them did not exist. . . . He 
seemed to stand for an eternity peering through a slit 
in a mud wall and gazing at another mud wall, and 
feeling the penetrating ooze of dying vegetation creep- 
ing into his body. Above his head would loom dark 
poles and barbarous entanglements. It was as though 
everything had vanished from the world but symbols of 
fear and cruelty, which rioted insanely against the 



THE BROTHERS G9 

heavens, as though everything that man had ever leamt 
had been forgotten and destroyed ; and he growled there 
in the wet earth, flaunting the feral passions of his 
remote ancestry. And the cold! — the cold was ter- 
rible. . . . He remembered a strange thing happening 
at that time. During some vague respite from the re- 
cun-ing horror of these imaginings, he had, he believed, 
been walking out through the meadows, when a numb- 
ness seemed to creep over his lower limbs. He could 
not get back. He had lain helpless in a field when 
George Carter, one of the farm hands, had found him 
and helped him home. He had been very ill then, 
and his mother had sent for Doctor Ewing. He could 
not remember exactly what the doctor said or what 
treatment he prescribed, or how long he had lain there 
in a semi-conscious state, but he vividly remembered 
hearing the doctor say one day : " It's very curious, 
madam. I was, as you know, out at the Front for some 
time with the Red Cross, and this boy has a fever quite 
peculiar to the men at the Eront. Has he been out 
standing in the wet mud ? " He could not remember 
what his mother answered. He wanted to say : " JSTo, 
no, it's not I. It's Giles," but he had not the strength, 
and afterwards wondered whether it were an illusion. 

He knew that many weeks went by, and still they 
would not let him walk. That was his greatest trouble, 
for walking helped him. When he could walk, he 
could sometimes live in a happier world of make-believe, 
but in bed the epic tragedy unfolded itself in every 
livid detail, intensely real. 



70 THE BROTHERS 

Long periods of time went by, and still he was not 
allowed to leave his room. His mother would come and 
sit with him and read him Giles's letters. They were 
wonderful letters, full of amusing stories of " rags " 
and tales of splendid feeds obtained under difficult 
circumstances. Of the conditions that existed so 
vividly in Robin's mind there was not one word. To 
read Giles's letters one would imagine that he was 
away on a holiday with a party of young undergradu- 
ates, having the time of their lives. But the letters 
had no reality to him. He knew. He had seen it all. 

Time became an unrecognizable factor. Faces came 
and went. His mother was always there, and there 
appeared another kind face whom he believed to be a 
nurse; and sometimes Jerry Lawson would come and 
sit by the bed, and talk to him about the beauties of the 
quattrocento and other things he had forgotten, things 
which belonged to a dead world. . . . 

Lying there in bed, he could not detach these impres- 
sions very clearly, nor determine how long ago they had 
taken place. There appeared to be an unaccountable 
shifting of the folds of darkness, a slipping away of 
vital purposes, and a necessity for focusing upon some 
immediate development. This necessity seemed, some- 
how, emphasized by the overpowering pain that had 
begun to rack his limbs, more especially his right foot. 
He wanted to call out, but some voice told him that it 
would be useless. The night was too impenetrable and 
heavy, his voice would only die away against its inky 
pall. There was besides a certain soothing tenderness 



THE BROTHERS Tl 

about it, as though it were caressing him and telling 
him that he must wait in patience, and all would be 
well. He knew now that he was sleeping in the open, 
and that would account for the chilling coldness. At 
the same time it was not exactly the open. There were 
walls about and jagged profiles, but apparently no roof 
or distances. The ground was hard like concrete. He 
must be infinitely patient and pray for the dawn. . . . 
He began to feel the dawn before he saw it. It came 
like the caressing sigh of a woman as she wakes and 
thinks of her lover in some foreign clime. Somewhere 
at hand a bird was twittering, aware too of the coming 
miracle. Almost imperceptibly things began to form 
themselves. He was certainly behind a wall, but there 
was a door, with the upper part leaning in. A phrase 
occurred to his mind: "The white arm of dawn is 
creeping over the door." A lovely passage! He had 
read it in some Irish book. The angle at the top of 
the door was like a bent elbow. It was very, very like 
the white arm — of some Irish queen, perhaps, or of the 
Mother of men — a white arai creeping over the door, 
and in its whiteness delicately touching the eyelids of 
the sleeping inmates, whilst a voice in a soft cadence 
whispered : " Awake ! pull back the door, and let me 
show you the silver splendors of the unborn day." 

A heavy dew was falling, and the cold seemed bitter, 
whilst all around he became aware of the slow unfolding 
of desolation; except for the leaning door, nothing 
seemed to take a recognizable shape, everything was 
jagged and violent in its form and exuded the cloying 



72 THE BROTHERS 

odors of death. Somewhere faintly he thought he heard 
the sound of a comet, bizarre and fantastic, and having 
no connection with the utter stillness of this place of 
sorrow. 

His eye searched the broken darkness in fugitive pur- 
suit of a solution of the formless void. Quite near him, 
apparently, was an oblong board which amidst this 
wilderness of destruction seemed to have escaped un- 
touched. As the dim violet light began to reveal cer- 
tain definite concrete things, he became aware that on 
the board were some Roman letters. He looked at them 
for some time unseeingly. The word written there 
stamped itself without meaning on his brain. The word 
was : " EILLES." He repeated it to himself over and 
over again. The earth seemed to rock again with a 
sullen, vibrating passion, as though irritated that the 
work of destruction was not entirely complete. Things 
already destroyed seemed to be subjected to further 
transmutation of formlessness. But still the board re- 
mained intact, and he fixed his eyes on it. It imbued 
him with a strange sense of tranquillity. Filles! A 
little word, but it became to him a link to cosmic 
things. The desire to reason passed, as the ability to 
suffer passed. Across the mists of time he seemed to 
hear the laughter of children. He could almost see 
them pass. There were Jeannette and Marie, with long 
black pigtails and check frocks, and just behind them, 
struggling with a heavy satchel, little fair-haired Ba- 
bette. How they laughed, those children! and yet he 
could not determine whether their laughter came from 



THE BKOTHERS 73 

the years that had passed or from the years that were 
to come. But wherever tlie laughter came from, it 
seemed the only thing the powers of darkness could not 
destroy. He lay then for a long time, conscious of a 
peace greater than any he could have conceived. And 
the white arm of dawn crept over the door. 

• ••••• 

The crowd who habitually came down by the after- 
noon train trickled out of the station and vanished. 
The master of Wodehurst came limping through the 
doorway. His face was bronzed and perhaps a little 
thinner, but his eyes laughed, and his voice rang out 
to the steward waiting in the dog-cart: 

" Hullo ! Sam, how are you ? " 

He was leaning on two sticks, and a porter followed 
with his trunks. 

" Can I help you up, sir ? " 

" No, it's all right, old man ; I can manage." 

He pulled himself up and laughed because he hit his 
knee upon the mudguard. 

" It's good to be home, Sam." 

" Yes ; I expect your mother will be glad, sir," an- 
swered Geddes, touching up the horse. " And so will 
we all, I'm thinking." 

They clattered down the road, and the high spirits 
of the wounded warrior rose. He asked a thousand 
questions, and insisted on taking the reins before they 
had gone far. It was dusk when they began to draw 
near Wodehurst ; a sudden silence had fallen on Giles. 
The steward realized the reason. He coughed uncom- 



U THE BROTHERS 

fortably. They were passing within a hundred yards 
of Wodehiirst Church. Suddenly he said in his deep 
burr: 

" We were all very sorry, sir, about Master Robin." 

The eyes of the soldier softened; he murmured: 

" Poor old chap ! " 

" I feel I ought to tell you, sir. It was a very queer 
thing. But one day that young Mr. Lawson — you 
know, the sculptor — about a week after it all hap- 
pened, he must have got up at daybreak, I should say — 
nobody saw him do it. He must have gone down there 
to the churchyard with his tools, and what do you think ? 
He carved something on the stone — on Mr. Robin's 
stone." 

Giles said quickly : " Carved ! What ? " 

" He carved just under the name and date, ' He died 
for England.' " 

" ' He died for England ! ' He carved that on 
Robin's grave ? What did he mean ? " 

" I don't know, sir." 

" Really ! What a rum chap he must be ! " 

" We didn't know what to do about it, sir. I saw it, 
and I didn't like to tell your mother, and nobody 
likes to interfere with a tombstone, it seems profane- 
like. So there it is to this day." 

" Thank you, Sam. I'll think about it." 

" Have you had much pain with your foot, sir ? " 

Giles laughed, and flicked the horse. 

" Oh, nothing to write home about, Sam. I had a 
touch of fever, you know. I didn't tell the mater. It 



THE BROTHERS 75 

was later on that I got this smash of my right foot. 
It happened at — I've forgotten the name ; some 
damned little village on the Flemish border. I was 
lucky in a way, the shrapnel missed me. It was falling 
stonework that biffed up my foot. There was a build- 
ing, a sort of school, I should think. It got blown to 
smithereens. It was rather a nasty mess-up. I was 
there for seven hours before they found me — Hullo ! 
I see the mater standing at the gate." 

The horse nearly bolted with the violence of Giles's 
waving arms. . . . 

The dinner — all the dishes that Giles specially loved 
— was finished. With his arm round his mother's waist 
and a cigar in the corner of his mouth, he led her 
into the warm comfort of the white-paneled drawing- 
room. 

" You won't mind my smoking in here to-night, 
mater ? " 

" My dear boy ! " 

They sat in silence, watching the red glow of the log 
fire. Suddenly Giles said: 

" I say, mater, do you know an awfully rum thing 
Geddes told me?" 

His mother looked up. 

" I think perhaps I know. Do you mean in the — 
cemetery ? " 

Giles nodded, puffing at his cigar in little nervous 
inhalations. 

" Yes. I knew. I saw it, of course. I've sat and 
wondered." 



/re THE BEOTHEES 

" Such a mm thing to do ! What do you think we 
ought to do about it, mater ? " 

He saw his mother lean forward ; the waves of silver 
hair seemed to enshrine the beautiful lines of her drawn 
face ; her voice came whispering : 

" Hadn't we better leave it, Giles ? . . . Perhaps he 
really did die for England ? " 

The young man glanced at her quickly. He saw her 
aged and broken by the war. He thought of his 
brother. . . . Then he caught sight of his own face in 
the mirror, lean, youthful, vigorous. The old tag 
flashed through his mind : 

" They also serve who only stand and wait." 

He thnist away that emotional expression, and in 
the manner of his kind stayed silent, rigid, with his 
back to the fire. And suddenly he said: 

" I say, mater, won't you play me something ? 
Chopin, or one of those Eussian Johnnies you play so 
rippingly ? " 



OLD IRON " 



" OLD IRON " 

YOU know how the story goes, of course. Hus- 
l)an(i and wife just about to retire to bed. 
Wife yawns, husband knocks out his pipe on 
the gi-ate and remarks: 

" Well, better turn in, I suppose." 

Wife replies: 

" Yes " ; then adds languidly : 

" I meant to call round to ask the Cartwrights to 
dinner on Thursday." 

Husband, after prolonged pause : 

" I'll pop round and ask them now, if you like. They 
never go to bed till very late," 

" I wish you would, dear." 

Husband pulls on a cloth cap and goes out. Wife 
yaAvns again, and picks up The Ladies' Boudoir, and 
idly examines charmeuse gown, and notes the prices of 
gloves at Foxtrot's & Fieldfem's. Yawns again more 
audibly. Collects sewing and places it in work-basket. 
Takes the kitten out and locks it up in the scullery. 
Yawns, and walks languidly upstairs. Turns on the 
light and spends fifteen minutes examining face at vari- 
ous angles in the glass. Begins to disrobe. Thinks 
sleepily : " Tom's a long time." Brushes out her hair 
and admires it considerably. Conceives a new way of 

dressing it for future festivities. Disrobes farther. 

79 



80 " OLD lEON " 

Yawns. Disrobes completely and re-robes — dressing- 



gown. 



" It's too bad being all this time ! " 

Vitality slightly stirred in the direction of resent- 
ment and a kind of mild apprehension. Lies on the 
bed and drowsily reviews the experiences of the day. 
Dreams . . . Suddenly starts with a consciousness of 
cold. Gropes for her wrist-watch. A quarter past 
one! Jumps from the bed, feeling the cold hand of 
fear on her heart. Runs downstairs and stares help- 
lessly out of the front door. Pauses to consider a thou- 
sand possible eventualities. Returns to bedroom and 
completely re-robes, not forgetting to do her hair neatly 
and powder her nose. Puts on cloak and goes out. 
Cartwrights' house all in darkness. Bangs on the 
front door and rings bell. Head of old Mr. Cartwright 
at first-floor window: 

"Who the devil's that?" 

" It's me. Wliere's Tom ? " 

" Tom ! Haven't seen him for weeks ! " 

" Good God ! Let me in." 

Cartwright family aroused. Panic. Painting scene 
in drawing-room. Brandy, smelling-salts and eau-de- 
cologne. Young George Cartwright mounts his bi- 
cycle — rides to the police-station; on the way talks 
to policeman on point duty. ISTo, no one heard anything 
of a thin man with a snuff-colored mustache. At police- 
station, no accidents so far reported. Chief inspector 
will make a note and await developments. Night 
passes, and the following day. No news. 



" OLD IRON " 81 

"Weeks, months, years elapse. Eight years slide 
easily by. The wife sui"vives her grief. She mar- 
ries the local organist, a blond and commendable young 
man. They continue to live in the wife's house. Chil- 
dren gather round her knee. One, two, three, twins, 
an interval, six, seven handsome blond children. They 
grow up. 

Twenty-two years elapse. They are sitting at tea. 
The father, the mother and the oldest son, a handsome 
young man in a gray flannel suit. He kisses his mother 
and says : 

" I must go now, mother dear. I have to take a 
Bible-class." 

He goes out (presumably to the Bible-class). The 
mother smiles with pride, the father glows with be- 
nignity and helps himself to another buttered muffin. 
Everything perfect. Suddenly the door opens, and 
an old man in a long gray beard and perambulating 
manner wanders into the room. He stares at the wife, 
and mumbles : 

" Did you say Thursday or Friday ? . . . My mem- 
ory is not what it was. . . ." 

And the wife stares at the old man, and then at the 
blond organist. And the blond organist stares at the 
motlier of his beautiful children, and then at the bearded 
interloper. And they all stare at each other and feel 
very embarrassed. 

The stoiy is familiar to you? Well, perhaps so. 
It is the story of the eternal triangle, the most useful 



82 "OLD IRON" 

pattern of geometrical forms in the construction of a 
romantic pattern. 

Heigho ! the trouble with human triangles is that they 
are never equilateral. Two sides together are invari- 
ably greater than the third side. 

Jim Canning was the third side of a triangle, and he 
got flattened out. In fact, his wife used to flatten 
him out on every possible occasion. She was bigger 
than he, and she was aided by the tertium quid, Ted 
WooUams, who was nothing more or less than a pro- 
fessional pugilist. What was Jim to do ? In every 
well-conducted epic the hero performs physical feats 
which leave you breathless. He is always tall and 
strong, and a bit too quick with the rapier for any 
villain who crosses his path. But what about a hero 
who is small and elderly, of poor physique, short- 
sighted, asthmatical, with corns which impede his gait ? 
You may say that he has no place in the heroic arena. 
He should clear out, go and get on with his job, and 
leave heroism to people who know how to manage the 
stuif. And yet there was something heroic in the heart 
of Jim Canning: a quick sympathy, and an instinct for 
self-sacrifice. 

He used to keep a second-hand furniture shop, which, 
you must understand, is a very different thing from an 
antique shop. Jim's furniture had no determinate 
character such as that which is associated with the name 
of Chippendale, Sheraton or Heppelwhite. It was just 
" furniture." Well-worn sofas, broken chairs and tables, 
mattresses with the stuflfing exuding from holes, rusty 



"OLD IRON" 83 

brass beds with the knobs missing, broken pots and 
mirrors and dumb-bells ; even clothes, and screws, false 
teeth and bird-cages, and ancient iimbrellas. But his 
specialty was old iron. Trays and trays and baskets 
filled with, scraps of old iron. 

His establishment used to be knoAATi in Camden Town 
at that time as " The Muck Shop." At odd times of 
the day you might observe his small pathetic figure 
trundling a barrow laden with the spoils of some hard- 
pressed inhabitant. "What a tale the little shop seemed 
to tell ! Struggle and poverty, homes broken up, drink, 
ugly passions, desperate sacrifices — a battered array 
of the symbols of distress. And, somehow, in his per- 
son these stories seemed to be embodied. One felt that 
he was sorry for the people whose property he bought. 
He was always knowm as a fair dealer. He paid a 
fair price and never took advantage of ignorance. 

His marriage was a failure from the very first. She 
was a big, strapping woman, the daughter of a local 
greengrocer. Twelve years younger than Jim, vain, 
frivolous, empty-headed and quarrelsome. Her reasons 
for marrying him were obscure. Probably she had ar- 
rived at the time when she wanted to marry, and Jim 
was regarded as a successful shop-keeper who could 
keep her in luxury. He was blinded by her physical 
attractions, and tried his utmost to believe that his wife 
was everything to be desired. Disillusionment came 
within the first month of their married life, at the mo- 
ment, indeed, when Clara realized that her husband's 
business was not so thriving as she had been led to 



84 " OLD IRON " 

believe. She immediately accused him of deceiving 
her. Then she began to snlk and neglect him. She 
despised his manner of conducting business — his con- 
scientiousness and sense of fair-dealing;. 

" If you'd put some ginger into it," she once re- 
marked, " and not always be thinking about the feelings 
of the tripe you buy from, we might have a house in the 
Camden Road and a couple of servants." 

This had never been Jim's ambition. Many years 
ago he had attended a sale at Shorwell Green, on the 
borders of Sussex, a glorious spot near the downs, 
amidst lime-trees and little running streams. It had 
been the dream of his life that one day he would retire 
there, with the woman he loved — and her children. 
When he put the matter to Clara, she laughed him to 
scorn. 

" Not half ! " she said. " Catch me living among 
butterflies and blinking cows. The Camden Road is 
my game." 

Jim sighed, and went on trundling his barrow. 
Well, there it was! If the woman he had married 
desired it, he must do what she wanted. In any case 
it was necessary to begin to save. But with Clara he 
found it exceedingly difficult to begin to save. She 
idled her day away, bought trinkets, neglected her 
domestic offices, went to the pictures, and sucked sweets. 
Any attempt to point out to her the folly of her ways 
only led to bitter recriminations, tears and savage dis- 
plays of temper, even physical violence to her husband. 
Then there came a day when Jim fondly believed 



" OLD IRON " 85 

that the conditions of their married life would be 
ameliorated. A child was born, a girl, and they called 
her Annie. Annie became the apple of his eye. He 
would hurry back from the shop to attend at Annie's 
bath. He would creep in at night and kiss the warm 
skin of her little skull. He would think of her as he 
pottered around amidst his broken chairs and tables, 
and utter little croons of anticipatory pleasure. Annie ! 
She would grow up and be the mainstay of his life. He 
would work and struggle for her. Her life should be 
a path of roses and happiness. His wife, too, appeared 
to improve upon the advent of Annie. For a time the 
baby absorbed her. She displayed a kind of wild 
animal joy in its existence. She nursed it and fondled 
it, and did not seem to resent the curtailment of her 
pleasures. It was an additional mouth to feed ; never- 
theless their expenses did not seem to greatly increase, 
owing probably to Clara's modified way of living. 

Four years of comparative happiness followed. Jim 
began to save. Oh ! very slowly ; very, very slowly. 
He still had less than three hundred pounds put on one 
side for — that vague future of settled security. But 
still it was a solid beginning. In another ten or fifteen 
years he would still be — well, not quite an old man ; 
an active man, he hoped. If ho could save only one 
hundred pounds a year! 

It was at this point that Ted Woollams appeared on 
the scene. He was the son of a manager of a Swimming 
Bath. On Sundays he used to box in " Fairyland " 
for purses of various amounts — he was a redoubtable 



86 "OLD IRON" 

middle-weight. During the week he swaggered about 
Camden Town in new check suits, his fingers glittering 
with rings. He met Clara one evening at a public 
dance. The mutual attraction appears to have been 
instantaneous. Thej danced together the whole eve- 
ning, and he saw her home. 

And then began the squeezing out of the third side 
of the triangle. Jim was not strong enough for them. 
At first he professed to see nothing in the friendship. 
He described Ted as " a jolly young fellow, a great pal 
of my wife's." And Ted treated him with a certain 
amount of respect. He called in at odd times, stayed 
to meals, drank Jim's beer, and smoked Jim's tobacco. 
The triangle was quite intact. It was Annie who caused 
the first disruption. She disliked the prize-fighter, and 
screamed at the sight of him. This led to reprisals 
when he had gone, and Jim's championship of the child 
did not help to cement the always doubtful nature of the 
affection between husband and wife. There were cross 
words and tears, and once she pushed him over a chair, 
and, in the fall, cut his temple. 

A few days later, Ted Woollams called in a great 
state of agitation. He wished to see Jim alone. It 
appeared that a wonderful opportunity had occuired to 
him. It was a complicated story about a quantity of 
bonded brandy which he had a chance of acquiring and 
selling at an enormous profit. He wanted to bon*ow 
fifty pounds till Saturday week, when he would pay 
Jim back sixty. Jim said he would lend him the fifty, 
but he didn't want any interest. 



"OLD IRON" 87 

When Saturday week came, Ted said the deal had 
fallen through, but he would let him have the money 
back the following Saturday. In the meantime he 
came to supper nearly every night. Sometimes he drank 
too much beer. 

Then Clara began to dress for the part. She bought 
expensive frocks, and had the account sent in to Jim. 
She neglected the child. 

The months drifted by, and Ted was always going to 
pay, but he became more and more part and parcel 
of the household. Jim's savings began to dwindle. He 
protested to both his wife and Ted, but they treated him 
with indifference. The boxer began to abuse his fa- 
miliarity. He would frequently tell Jim that he was 
not wanted in the drawing-room after supper. When 
spoken to about the money he laughed and said : 

" Oh, you've got plenty, old 'un. Lend us another 
fiver." .- -M 

On one occasion Jim was foolish enough to lend 
him another ten pounds, under the spell of some heart- 
rending story about a poor woman in the street where 
W^oollams lived. This lopsided triangle held together 
for nearly four years. Jim was unhappy and dis- 
tracted. He did not know how to act. He could not 
leave his wife, for the sake of the child. If he turned 
her out — and he had no legal power to do so — she 
would probably take Annie with her. And the child 
was devoted to him. They were great friends, and it 
was only this friendship which prevented him indulging 
in some mad act. Several times he ordered Woollams 



88 " OLD IKON " 

out of the house and forbade him to come again, but the 
boxer laughed at him and called him an old fool. He 
knew that his wife was practically keeping the man. 
They went to cinemas together, and often disappeared 
for the whole day, but she always returned at night, 
although it was sometimes two or three in the morning 
before she did so. Jim had no proof of actual unfaith- 
fulness. !N"either could he afford to hire detectives, 
a course of action which in any case appeared to him 
distasteful. Far from saving a hundred pounds a year, 
he was spending more than his income. His savings 
had dwindled to barely forty pounds. His business 
was stagnant, but still he trundled his barrow hither 
and thither, calling out, " Old iron ! old iron ! " and he 
struggled to pay the fair price. 

During a great period of his life Jim had enjoyed 
an unaccountable but staunch friendship with a gentle- 
man named Isaac Rubens. Isaac Rubens was a Jew in 
a slightly similar way of business to himself, and he 
conducted a thriving house at the corner of the Holy 
Angel Road. Isaac was in many respects a very re- 
markable man. Large, florid, and puffy, with keen 
eagle eyes and an enormous nose, he was a man of 
profound knowledge of the history and value of ohjets 
d'art. He was moreover a man of his word. He was 
never known to give or accept a written contract, and 
never known to break a verbal one. The friendship 
between these two was in many respects singular. 
Isaac was a keen man of business, and Jim was of very 
little use to him. Isaac's furniture was the real thing, 



" OLD IRON " 89 

with names and pedigrees. He did not deal in old iron 
but in stones and jewels and ornaments. Nevertheless 
he seemed to find in Jim's society a certain pleasure. 
Jim would call on his rounds and, leaving his barrow 
out in the road, would spend half-an-hour or so chatting 
with the Jew across the counter. 

Sometimes after supper they would call on each other 
and smoke a pipe and discuss the vagaries of their call- 
ing, or the more abstract problems of life and death. 

When this trouble came upon Jim he immediately 
repaired to his friend's house and told him the whole 
story. 

" Oh, dear ! oh, dear ! This is a bad business ! a 
bad business ! " exclaimed Isaac, when it was over. 
His moist eyes glowed amidst the general humidity of 
his face. " How can I advise you ? An erring wife 
is the curse of God. You cannot turn her away without 
knowledge. Thank God, my Lena. . . . But there! 
among my people such lapses are rare. You have no 
evidence of unfaithfulness ? " 

" No." 

" You must be gentle with her, gentle but firm. 
Point out the error of her ways." 

" I am always doing that, Isaac." 

" She may get over it — a passing infatuation. Such 
things happen." 

" If it wasn't for the child ! " 

" Yes, yes, I understand. Oh, dear ! oh, dear ! very 
distressing, my friend. If I can be of any assist- 
ance — " 



90 " OLD IRON " 

He thrust out his large hands helplessly. It is the 
kind of trouble in which no man can help another, and 
each knew it. Jim hovered by the door. 

" It's nice to have some one to — talk to, anyway," 
he muttered; then he picked up his cap and shuffled 
away, calling out: 

"Old iron! Old iron!" 

Annie was nine when the climax came. An intelli- 
gent, pretty child, with dark hair and quick, impulsive 
manners. Her passionate preference for her father did 
not tend to smooth the troubles of the household. She 
attended the grammar-school and had many girl-friends. 
She saw very little of her mother. 

One evening Jim returned home late. He had been 
on a visit to his friend, Isaac. He found Annie seated 
on the bottom stair, in her nightdress. Her face was 
very pale and set, her eyes bright. She had been cry- 
ing. Wlien she saw her father she gasped : 

"Daddy! ... Oh, Daddy!" 

He seized her in his arms and whispered : 

" What is it, my dear ? " 

Then she cried quietly while he held her. He did 
not attempt to hurry her. At last she got her voice un- 
der control and gasped quietly: 

" I had gone to bed. I don't know why it was. I 
got restless in bed. I came down again softly. I 
peeped into the sitting-room. . . . Oh, Daddy ! " 

" What ? What, my love ? " 

" That man. . . . That man and — " 

" Your mother ? " 



" OLD IRON " 91 

" Yes." 
" He was — " 

" He was kissing her and — Oh ! " 
Jim clutched his child and pressed her head against 
his breast. 

" I went in, . . . He struck me." 
" What ! " 

"He struck me because I wouldn't promise not to 
tell." 

"He struck jou, eh? He stinick you! That man 
struck you, eh ? " 

" Yes, Daddy." 

"Where is he?" 

" They're — up there now. I'm frightened." 

" Go to bed, my love. Go to bed." 

He carried her up the stairs and fondled her, and 
put her into bed. 

" It's all right, my love. Go to sleep. Pleasant 
dreams. It's all right. Daddy will look after you." 

Then he went downstairs. 

A shout of laughter greeted him through the door of 
the sitting-room. He gripped the handle and walked 
deliberately in. Ted Woollams was stretching himself 
luxuriously on the sofa. His heavy sensual face ap- 
peared puffy and a little mussed. Clara was lying 
back in an easy chair, smoking a cigarette. Jim did 
not speak. He walked up to Ted and without any 
preliminary explanation struck him full on the nose 
with his clenched fist. For a moment the boxer ap- 
peared more surprised than anything. His eyes nar- 



9'2 " OLD mO^ " 

rowed, then the pain of the blow appeared to sting him. 
He rose from the sofa with a growl. As he advanced 
upon Jim, the latter thought: 

" He's going to kill me. What a fool I was not to 
strike him with a poker ! " 

He thrust out his arms in an ineffectual defense. 
There was something horribly ugly, ugly and revolting 
in the animal-like lurch of the man bearing down on 
him . . . the demon of an inevitable doom. Jim 
struck wildly at the other's arms, at the same time 
thinking : 

" My little girl ! I promised to look after her." 

A jarring blow above the heart staggered him, and as 
he began to crumple forward he had a quick vision of 
the more destroying fate, the something which came 
crashing to his jaw. He heard his wife scream; then 
darkness enveloped him. 

A long and very confused period followed. His 
glimpses of consciousness were intermittent and ac- 
companied by pain. He heard people talking, and 
they appeared strangers to him. There was a lot of 
talking going on, quarreling, perhaps. When he was 
once more a complete master of his brain he realized 
abruptly that he was in the ward of a hospital. His 
jaw was strapped up tight and was giving him great 
pain; a nurse was feeding him through a silver tube. 
Two of his teeth were missing. He wanted to talk to 
her, but found he could not speak. Then he recalled 
the incident of his calamity. Well, there it was. He 
had been brought up in a hard school. Old iron! 



" OLD IRON » 93 

The instinct of self-preservation prompted him to bide 
his time. Doubtless his jaw was broken; a long job, 
but he would get well again. At the end of the jour- 
ney Annie awaited him. What was the child doing 
now? Who was looking after her? He passed 
through periods of mental anguish and misgiving, and 
then long periods of drowsy immobility. Night suc- 
ceeded day. To his surprise, on the following after- 
noon, his wife appeared. She came and sat by the bed, 
and said : 

"Going on all right?" 

He nodded. She looked uneasily round, then whis- 
pered : 

" You needn't have taken on like that. Ted's going 
off to America, to-morrow — fulfilling engagements." 

Jim stared at the ceiling, then closed his eyes. Ted 
no longer interested him. He wanted Annie, and he 
could not ask for her. Clara stayed a few moments, 
chatted with the nurse, and vanished. Why had she 
come? Later on, he was removed to the operating 
theater, and they re-set his jaw. The shift of time 
again became uncertain. A long while later he re- 
membered a kindly-faced man in a white overall say- 



ing; 



" Well, old chap, who struck you this blow ? " 

He bent his ear down to Jim's lips, and the latter 
managed to reply: 

" A stranger." 

Isaac came, humid and concerned, and pressed his 
hand. 



94 " OLD IKON " 

" Well, well, I've found you, old friend ! A neigh- 
bor told me. Distressing indeed. They say you must 
not talk. Well, what can I do ? " 

Jim indicated with his hands that he wished to write 
something down. Isaac produced an envelope and a 
pencil, and he vsTote: 

" Go and see my little gal Annie. Send her to me. 
Keep an eye on her." 

Isaac nodded gravely, and went away. 

There appeared an eternity of time before the child 
came, but when she did all his dark forebodings van- 
ished. She came smiling up the ward, and kissed him. 
They held each other's hands for a long time before she 
spoke. 

" They would not tell me where you were. It was 
old Mr. Eubens. Oh, Daddy, are you getting better ? " 

Yes, he was getting better. Much better. During 
the last two minutes he had improved enormously. He 
felt that he could speak. He managed to mumble: 

" How are you, my love ? " 

" All right. Mother has been very cross. That 
horrid man has gone away. Mr. Rubens said you hurt 
your face. How did it happen, Daddy ? " 

" I slipped on the stairs, my dear, and fell." 

Annie's eyes opened very wide, but she did not speak. 
He knew by her manner that she did not believe him. 
At the back of her eyes there still lurked something of 
that horror which haunted them on the night when she 
had discovered " that horrid man " embracing her 
mother. It was the same night that her father 



" OLD IRON " 95 

" slipped on the stairs." The child was too astute to 
dissociate the two incidents, but she did not want to 
distress him. 

" I shall come every day," she announced. 

He smiled gratefully, and she stayed and cliatted 
with him until the sister proclaimed that visitors were 
to depart. 

From that day the convalescence of Jim Canning, 
although slow, was assured. Apart from the broken 
jaw he had suffered a slight concussion owing to strik- 
ing the back of his head against the wall when he fell. 
The hospital authorities could not get out of him how 
the accident happened. Annie and Isaac Rubens were 
regular visitors, but during the seven weeks he re- 
mained in hospital Clara only visited him twice, and 
that was to arrange about money. On the day that he 
w^as discharged he had drawn his last five pounds from 
the bank. 

" I^ever mind, never mind," he thought to himself ; 
" we'll soon get that back." 

And within a few days he was again trundling his 
barrow along the streets, calling out in his rather high 
tremolo voice, " Old iron ! Old iron ! " 

There followed after that a long period in the life of 
the Canning family which is usually designated as 
"humdrum." With the departure of Ted Woollams, 
Clara settled down into a listless prosecution of her do- 
mestic routine. She seldom spoke to her husband ex- 
cept to nag him, or to grumble about their reduced cir- 
cumstances, and these for a time were in a very serious 



96 "OLD IRON" 

state. Debts had accumulated, and various odds and 
ends in the house had disappeared while he had been in 
hospital. Clara was still smartly dressed, but Annie's 
clothes, particularly her boots, were in a deplorable 
condition. But Jim set to work, leaving home in the 
morning at seven o'clock and often not returning till 
eight or nine at night. For months the financial posi- 
tion remained precarious. A period of hunger, and 
ill-temper, and sudden ugly brawls. But gradually he 
began again to get it under control. Clara had not lost 
her taste for good living, but she was kept in check 
by the lack of means. She was furtive, sullen, and 
resentful. Jim insisted that whatever they had to 
go without, Annie was to continue with her school- 
ing. 

They never spoke of Ted Woollams, but Jim knew 
that he had only gone away for four or five months. 
Jim struggled on through the winter months, out in all 
weathers in his thin and battered coat. Sometimes 
twinges of rheumatism distorted his face, but he men- 
tioned it to no one, not even Isaac. 

It was in April that a sudden and dramatic change 
came into Jim's life. One morning he was alone in 
the shop. It was raining, and no customers had been in 
for several hours. Jim was struggling with the un- 
solvable problem of getting things straight and sorted 
out. Beneath a bed he came across a jumble of inde- 
scribable things, bits of iron and broken pots, odd boots, 
sections of brackets, nameless odd-shaped remnants cov- 
ered with dust and grime. He sighed. He remem- 



" OLD IROX " 97 

bered this lot quite well. They had been a great dis- 
appointment to him. He had trundled his barrow all 
the way down to a sale in Greenwich, where he had 
been given the tip that there were some good things 
going. Owing to losing his way, he had ai-rived late, 
and all the plums had been devoured by rival dealers. 
lie had picked up this lot at the end of the sale for a 
few shillings, not that they appealed to him as a good 
bargain, but because he did not want to feel that he had 
completely wasted his day. He had brought them 
back and dumped them under the bed, intending to go 
through them later on. That was many months ago, 
long before he had been to the hospital, and there they 
had remained ever since. 

Jim's ideas of dusting were always a little perfunc- 
tory. With a small feather brush he flicked clouds of 
dust from one object to another, Xo; there was noth- 
ing here of any value, though that piece of torn em- 
broidery might fetch five shillings, and the small ob- 
long iron box which some one had painted inside and out 
a dark green might be worth a little more. He picked 
it up and examined it. A ridiculous notion to paint 
iron; but there! people were fools, particularly cus- 
tomers. Of course it might be copper or brass. In 
that case it would be worth more. He pulled out a long 
jack-knife and scraped the surface. The paint was old 
but incredibly thick. It must have had a dozen coats 
or so. When he eventually got down to the surface he 
found a dark-blue color. 

" Um! " thought Jim. " That's a funny thing." 



98 " OLD IRON " 

And he scraped a little more, and found some brown 
and white. 

" That's enamel/^ he said out loud. " An enamel 
box. Um! I'll show that to Isaac. An enamel box 
might be worth several pounds." 

He put the box on one side, and continued tidying 
up. That evening, after supper, he wrapped the box 
up in a piece of newspaper and took it round to his 
friend. 

Isaac adjusted his thickest glasses and examined the 
spot where Jim had scratched. Then he went to the 
door and called out : 

" Lizzie, bring me some turpentine." 

When the turpentine was brought, Isaac began to 
work away at the surface with a rag and penknife. 
His face was very red, but he made no remark except 
once to mutter: 

" This paint alone is twenty or thirty years old." 

It took him nearly half-an-hour to reveal a complete 
corner of the box. Then he sat back and examined it 
through a microscope. Jim waited patiently. At last 
Isaac put it down and tapped the table. 

" This," he said deliberately, " is a Limoges enamel 
box of the finest period. An amazing find! Where 
did you obtain it ? " 

" I bought it at a sale of the effects of an old lady 
named Brandt, at Greenwich. She died intestate, and 
had no relatives." 

" You are in luck's way, Jim Caiming." 

" But why was it painted dark-green ? " 



" OLD lEON " 1)9 



« 'T 



There are many mysteries in our profession. It 
was probably stolen many years ago — possibly a cen- 
tury ago. The thief knew that the piece was too well- 
known to attempt to dispose of for some time. So for 
security he painted it in order to hide it. Then some- 
thing happened. He may have died or been sent to 
prison. The box passed into other hands. Nobody 
worried about it. It was just an old iron box. It has 
probably been lying in a lumber-room for years." 

" It's been lying in my shop for five months. Is it 
worth a great deal, Isaac ? " 

Isaac thoughtfully stroked his chin. 

" I am of opinion that if it is undamaged, and if the 
rest of it is up to the standard of this part we have 
disclosed, it is worth many thousand pounds." 

Jim looked aghast. 

" But I only gave six-and-sixpence for the lot ! " 

" It is the fortune of our profession." 

The upshot of it was that Jim left the box in Isaac's 
hands to deal with as he thought fit. At first Isaac 
wished to waive the question of commission, but when 
Jim pointed out that but for Isaac's superior knowledge 
he would probably have sold it for a five-pound note, 
the Jew agreed to sell it on a ten per cent, basis. Fair 
bargaining on both sides. 

Jim returned home, almost dazed by the news. Was 
it fair to obtain such a large sum of money in such a 
way ? He had done nothing to deserve it. And yet — 
who should have it, if not he? The old lady had not 
even any relations. She was an eccentric who lived 



100 " OLD IKOIsT " 

alone with a crowd of cats. An enamel box has no at- 
traction to a cat. 

He said nothing about his find to his wife or to 
Annie. He did not wish to buoy them up with false 
hopes. Perhaps, after all, Isaac might be mistaken, or 
he may have over-valued the object. A thousand 
pounds ! A dazzling sum. Why, he could almost re- 
tire upon it to — Shorwell Green, where it was so quiet 
and peaceful. But no ! Clara would not agree to 
that — the Camden Road ! He detested the Camden 
Road, but still, there it was. Clara was his wife. It 
was only fair to consider her wishes, although they were 
so unhappy together. In any case, it would be a great 
relief; security for years to come. 

He went back to his work as though nothing had hap- 
pened. Weeks went by, and Jim heard nothing about 
the enamel box; and then, one morning, he received a 
note from Isaac asking him to call round at once. 

When he entered his friend's shop he knew that 
something exceptional had happened. Isaac was ex- 
cited. He glowed and smiled, and was almost jocular. 

" Come into my little room," he said. 

When they were seated, he elaborately produced a 
cheque from his vest pocket, and handed it across the 
table to Jim. 

" Here is your little share. I have kept my com- 
mission." 

It was a cheque for £4,140. Isaac had sold it for 
£4,600 to a well-known collector. 

The rest of that day was like a dro^TO to Jim. 



" OLD IRON " 101 

Truly, he returned and pretended to be busy. In the 
afternoon, he even went out and trundled his barrow, 
calling out, " Old iron ! Old iron ! " but he did it 
more by force of habit. 

" I need not do this any more," he kept on thinking. 
His mind was occupied with many visions. It was a 
bri.'vht spring day, with light fleecy clouds scudding 
above the chimney-pots. How beautiful it would be 
in that Sussex vale! The flowers would be out, and 
the young pollard- willows reflected in the cool streams. 
Pleasant to lie on the bank and fish, and forget this 
grimy life. And Annie, racing hither and thither, 
picking the buttercups and marguerites, and nestling 
by his side. He could do all this ! Freedom, by one 
of those queer twists of fate. 

The day wore on, and he still continued his work in a 
dazed, preoccupied manner. When the evening came, 
a feeling of exhaustion crept over him. Yes, probably 
he was tired. He wanted a rest and change. How 
fortunate he was. And yet he dreaded breaking the 
news to Clara. She would immediately demand a com- 
plete social unheaval. A new house, new furniture, 
luxuries, and parties, and social excitements. He ar- 
rived home late. During supper he was very silent. 

" I will tell her afterwards," he thought. Annie 
was in bed. She should be told to-morrow. But to- 
night it must be broken to Clara. After all, it was 
true, she ivas his wife. It was the fair thing to do. 
He tried to recall the moments of passion and tender- 
ness of the early days of their honeymoon, but all the 



102 "OLD lEON"" 

other ugly visions kept dancing before his eyes. He 
lighted his pipe and gazed around the untidy room. 
Perhaps she would improve. Perhaps the changed 
conditions would soften her, and make her more amen- 
able. But still, she was his wife, and if she wished to 
live in the Camden Road, well . . . 

It was nearly dark, and Clara went out of the room, 
humming. She seemed peculiarly cheerful to-night. 
Almost as if she knew. . . . He fingered the cheque in 
his breast-pocket. She had gone upstairs — probably 
to fetch a novel. She adored a certain kind of novel. 
"When she came down, he would lay the cheque on the 
table, and say: 

" Look, Clara ; see what has happened to us ! " 

And then he would be a little tender with her, try 
and make her understand how he felt. They would 
start all over again. 

And then happened a variant of that hypothetical 
case described at the beginning of this story. Only, in 
this case it was the woman who went out. 

Jim was sitting there with his fingers on the cheque 
that was to be their means of reconciliation, and with 
the tears already banked in his unuttered speech, when 
Clara put her head in the door. She had her hat on. 
She said: 

" I'm going to the post." 

Jim removed his hand from his breast-pocket. He 
sat back, and heard the door slam. 

" I'll tell her when she comes in." 



" OLD IRON " 103 

But Clara never came in. He waited half-an-hour, 
and then he thought: 

" She's gone to some dissipation with a friend. Oh, 
well, I must wait up till she returns, I suppose. I'm 
sorry she has disappointed me on — a night like this, 
though." 

He sat dreaming in the chair, till he became sud- 
denly painfully aware of cold. It was quite dark. 
He lighted the gas. It was one o'clock. He felt his 
heart beating with a physical dread. Something had 
happened to Clara. Perhaps she had been run over, at 
the very moment when everything was going to change 
for the better for her. He blundered his way out into 
the hall, where a gas-jet flickered feebly, and groped 
for his overcoat. On it he found a note pinned. He 
turned up the gas higher, and read: 

" I'm going off to Ted Woollams, I'm sick of you, and the 
stinking little house. Ted's made a bit in America, and I 
give you the address. You can do what you like about it, but 
it's no good you ever trying to get me back. 

" Clara." 

It was characteristic of Jim Canning that this note 
made him cry. He was so sensitive to its utter cal- 
lousness and ingratitude. Then he dabbed his eyes 
with his old rod handkerchief, and went upstairs. He 
tapped on Annie's door, tlien he opened it and said 
quietly : 

" Annie, it's all right, my dear. It's only me. May 
I come in ? " 



104 " OLD lEO^T '> 

The sleeping child was awake abruptly. She held 
out her arms. 

" I ought not to have woken you up, my love, only I 
felt a little — lonely. Annie, would you like to come 
away with me to a beautiful place in the country, 
where it's all woods and flowers, and little streams ? " 

" Oh, Daddy, yes ! And would there be lambs, too, 
and little black pigs, and brown calves ? " 

" Yes, my dear ; all those things ; and birds, too, and 
quietness, and freedom." 

" But, Daddy, could we ? " 

" Yes, dear ; I've had some good fortune." 

Annie was very wide awake now, and she sat up and 
clapped her hands. 

" Oh, Daddy, when can we go ? " 

" Quite soon, my dear. Perhaps in a few weeks." 

When he had closed the door, he dabbed his eyes 
again, and thought : 

'' It was unthinking of me. I oughtn't to have 
woken her up, but — she is all I have." 

A week later he wrote to Clara: 

" Dear Clara, 

" I understand that for the last week you have been living 
with Ted Woollams. I do not erittieize your action. We are 
all as God made us. I shall in the dew course take diverse 
proceedings not as an act of hostility to you but that you may 
marry the man of your choice and be respectable. I also shall 
share witli you the result of a good deal last week in older 
that you may not want and so close with check for £2020. I 
think this fair. " Jm." 

It was Isaac who helped him over all the difficult 



" OLD IKON " 105 

problems wliidi occiiirod at that time, and it was Isaac 
who persuaded liim that he was overdoing the " fair- 
ness " to Clara. He said that under the circumstances 
he had no moral obligation to Clara, and that £500 
would be lavish. So in the end Jim altered the cheque 
to that amount. It was Isaac who took over the lit- 
tle shop, which he used as a kind of dumping-ground 
of his superfluous stock. And it was Isaac who, a year 
after, returned letters addressed to Jim in a handwrit- 
ing he recognized, " Gone away. Address not known." 
And it was he who in later years bore the brunt of the 
wild invective of a drunken harridan who said that her 
husband had deserted her, and would not hand her any 
of the fortune he must have inherited. He shook his 
head sadly, and replied that he knew nothing. Mr. 
Canning and his daughter had left London. He 
thought they had gone to Australia. 

^Vlien she had gone, he said to himself: 
" It would distress Jim to know that a woman who 
had once been his wife had sunk to such a condition." 
As he passed through to the room at the back he 
smiled and thought : 

" How fortunate she did not come in here ! " 
On the table was a large bowl of red and white roses, 
with the label and card still lying on the table. On 
the card was inscribed, " With love to Uncle Isaac. 
A." 

The postmark on the label was a village in Sussex. 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 

WHEN their careers are finished, the painter, 
the author, the architect, the sculptor, may 
point to this or that, and say, " Lo, this is 
my handiwork. Future generations shall rejoice in 
me." 

But to the actor and the executive musician there is 
nothing left but — memories. 

Their permanence lies in the memories of the people 
who loved them. They cannot pass it on. Some one 
may say to you, " Ah, my boy, you should have heard 
Jean de Reszke," or, " You should have seen Macready 
play that part." And you are bound in all politeness to 
accept this verdict, but if you have not heard Jean de 
Reszke, nor seen Macready, it leaves no definite im- 
pression on you at all. Indeed, the actor is in worse 
case than the musician. For at the present time there 
are ingenious mechanical devices for caging the per- 
formance of a musician with varying degrees of suc- 
cess, but no mechanism could ever imprison the electric 
thrill of Joseph Jefferson or Henry Irving on their 
great nights of triumph. They are gone forever, cast 
away among the limbo of the myths. 

These melancholy reflections occurred to me on the 

first occasion when I visited Colin Brancker. I met 

the old chap first of all in the public library. He had 

109 



110 LITTLE WHITE FROCK 

a fine, distinguished head, with long, snow-white hair. 
He was slim, and in spite of a pronounced stoop, he car- 
ried himself with a certain distinction and alertness. 
I was a fairly regular visitor to the library, and I al- 
ways found him devouring the magazines and news- 
papers which I particularly wanted to read myself. 
A misunderstanding about a copy of the Saturday 
Review led to a few formal expressions of courtesy, 
on the following day to a casual nod, later on to a few 
words about the weather; then to a profound bow on 
his part and an inquiry after his health from me. 
Once we happened to be going out at the same time, 
and I walked to the end of the road with him. 

He interested me at once. His clear, precise diction, 
with its warm timbre of restrained emotion, was very 
arresting. His sympathy about the merest trifles 
stirred you to the depths. If he said, " What a glorious 
day it is to-day ! " it was not merely a conventional 
expression, but a kind of paean of all the joy and 
ecstasy of spring life, sunshine and young lambs frisk- 
ing in the green meadows. 

If he said, " Oh ! I'm so sorry," in reply to your an- 
nouncement that you had lost your 'bus ticket coming 
along and had had to pay twice, the whole dread inci- 
dent appeared to you envisaged through a mist of tears. 
The grief of Agamemnon weeping over the infidelity of 
Clytemnestra seemed but a trite affair in comparison. 

One day, with infinite tact, he invited me to his 
" humble abode." He occupied the upper part of a 
small house in Talbot Road. He lived alone, but was 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 111 

apparently tended by a gannt, middle-aged woman who 
glided about the place in felt slippers. 

The rooms were, as he expressed it, " humble," but 
not by any means poverty-stricken. lie had several 
pieces of old furniture and bric-a-brac, innumerable me- 
mentoes and photographs. It was then that I realized 
the peculiar position of the actor. If he had been a 
painter I could have looked at some of his work and 
have " placed " him ; but what could you do with an 
old actor who lived so much in the past? The posi- 
tion seemed to me pitiable. 

Doubtless in his day he had been a fine and dis- 
tinguished actor, and here was I, who knew nothing 
about him, and did not like to ask what parts he had 
played because I felt that I ought to know. Neither 
was he very informing. Not that he was diffident in 
speech — he talked well and volubly — but I had to 
gather what he had done by his various implications. 
There was a signed photograph of himself in the char- 
acter of Malvolio, and in many other Shakespearean 
parts. There were also signed photographs of J. L. 
Toole and Henry Irving, and innumerable actors, some 
of whom were famous and others whose names were un- 
familiar to me. By slow degrees I patched together 
some of the romantic tissues of his life. Whatever po- 
sition he may have held in the theatrical world, he 
certainly still had the faculty of moving one person 
profoundly — myself. Everything in that little room 
seemed to vibrate with romance. One of Irving's pho- 
tographs was inscribed " To my dear old friend, Colin 



112 LITTLE WHITE FEOCK 

Brancker." On the circular table was an enamel snuff- 
box given him by Nellie Farren. 

When he spoke of his mother his voice sounded like 
some distant organ with the vox Imrtianci stop pulled 
out. I gathered that his mother had been a famous 
French actress. On the piano was a fan given her by 
the Empress Eugenie. He never spoke of his father. 
E'early everything had some intimate association. 

I formed a habit of calling on old Brancker on 
Thursday evenings, when my wife usually visited an 
invalid aunt. The experience was always a complete 
entertainment. He knew nothing of my world and I 
knew nothing of his. I came completely under the 
spell of his imagery. I had only to touch some trin- 
ket on the mantelpiece to set the whole machinery of 
retrospection on the move. He came haltingly to his 
subject as though he were feeling for it through the 
lavender-scented contents of some old drawer. But 
when the subject was discovered, he brought the whole 
picture vividly before my mind. I could see those 
people strutting before the footlights, hear them laugh 
and joke in their stuffy lodgings and their green-rooms, 
follow their hard life upon the road, their stiiiggles, 
and adversities, and successes, and above all the mov- 
ing throb of their passions and romances. 

And then the picture would die out. It had no be- 
ginning and no end. It was just an impression. The 
angle of vision would alter. Something else would ap- 
pear upon the scene. 

After a time, touched with pity for this lonely and 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 113 

derelict old actor, my wife and I occasionally sent him 
little presents of game and j)ort wine, when such tilings 
came our way. I would like to explain, at this point, 
that my wife is younger than I. Her outlook is less 
critical and introspective. To use her own expression, 
she is out to have a good time. She enjoys dances and 
theaters and gay parties. And, after all, why shouldn't 
she? She is young and beautiful and full of life. 
Her hair — but I digress ! In spite of the pheasants 
and the port, she had never met old Brancker. But 
one day we all happened to meet at the corner of the 
Talbot Bead. I then enjoyed an entirely novel vision 
of my hero. He was magnificent. The bow he made, 
the long sweep of the hat, would have put d'Artagnan 
to shame. When I introduced them, he held her hand 
for a moment, and said: 

" It is indeed a great pleasure." 

It doesn't sound very much in print, but Alice com- 
pletely went under. She blushed with pleasure, and 
told me afterwards that she thought he was " a perfect 
old dear." The affair lapsed for several weeks. I still 
continued to call upon him, and we nearly exhausted 
the whole gamut of his belongings. We even routed 
through old drawers where faded remnants of ancient 
fustian would recall some moving episode of the past. 
I became greedy for these visionary adventures. 

One night, rather late, I found the little white frock. 
So familiar had I become with my old friend that I 
was allowed to poke about his room on my own, and 
ask him questions. It was a child's frock, and it lay 



114 LITTLE WHITE FEOCK 

neatly folded on the top of a chest in the passage. I 
brought it into the room, where he was sipping his rum- 
and-water, and said : 

" What's this, Mr. Brancker ? " 

He fixed his eyes upon the frock, and instantly I 
was aware that he was strangely moved. At first an 
expression of surprise and bewilderment crept over his 
face; then I observed a look of utter dejection and re- 
morse. He did not speak, and rather confusedly I 
went up to him and touched him on the shoulder. 

" I'm sorry," I said. " Doubtless there is some 
story. ... I ought not to have . . ." 

Instantly he patted my arm in return, and muttered : 

" 1^0, no. It's all right, old boy. I will tell you. 
Only, not to-night. IS'o, not to-night." 

He stood up and took one or two turns up and down 
the room in silence. I did not dare to intrude into 
the secret chamber of his memories. Suddenly he 
turned to me, and putting his arm round my shoulder, 
he exclaimed: 

" Old boy, come in to-morrow. Come to dinner. 
Bring the wife. Yes, you must both come. Come to 
dinner at seven-thirty. And then — I will tell you the 
story of that little white frock." 

It happened that a dance my wife had intended going 
to the following night had fallen through. To my sur- 
prise, she jumped at Mr. Brancker's invitation. She 
said that she thought it would be extremely interesting. 
I felt a little nervous at taking her. An invitation to 
dinner for the first time is always a doubtful number. 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 115 

The social equation varies so alarmingly and unex- 
pectedly. My wife frequently dined at what she 
called " smart " houses. How could old Brancker pos- 
sibly manage a dinner in his poky rooms? I warned 
her to wear her oldest and shabbiest, and to have a sand- 
wich before we started. Needless to say, my advice 
was ignored. She appeared in a wonderful go\vn of 
pearl-gTay. Experience told me it was useless to pro- 
test, and I jogged along the street by her side in my 
tweed suit. And then I had my second surprise. Old 
Brancker was in immaculate evening-dress. Cun- 
ningly-modulated lights revealed a table glittering with 
silver and glass. I mumbled some apology for my 
negligence, but in his most courtly way he expressed 
his pleasure that I had treated him with such friendly 
lack of ceremony. Nevertheless this question of dress 
— as so often happens — exercised a very definite effect 
upon my whole evening. I felt a little out of it. My 
wife and old Brancker seemed to belong to one world 
and I to another. Moreover, their conversation flowed 
easily and naturally. The old actor was in his most 
brilliant mood, and Alice sparkled and gurgled in re- 
sponse. Although she w^as younger and Brancker older 
than I, I felt at times that I was the oldest of the three, 
and that they were just children playing an absorbing 
game. And the dinner was the third surprise. 

The gaunt woman ser\'ed it, gliding in and out of the 
room with a quiet assurance. It was no lodging-house 
dinner, but the artful succession of little dishes which 
symbolizes the established creed of superior-living crea- 



116 LITTLE WHITE FROCK 

tures. Wine, too, flowed from long-necked bottles, and 
coffee was served in diminutive cnps. At length, Mrs. 
Windsor collected the last vestiges of this remarkable 
feast, but left on the table a silver tray on which were 
set four liqueur glasses and a decanter of green Char- 
treuse. 

" Let us all sit round the fire," said our host. " But, 
first, let me press you to have a little of this excellent 
beverage. It was given me by a holy brother, a man 
who led a varied life, but who, alas ! died in disgrace." 

He passed his hand across his brow as though the 
memory were too sacred to be discussed. I sighed in- 
voluntarily, and my wife said brightly: 

" ]^ot for me, Mr, Brancker ; but you help yourself. 
And now you're going to tell us the story of the white 
frock." 

He raised his fine head and looked at her. Then 
he stretched out his long arm across the table and 
gently pressed her hand. 

" I beg of you, dear lady," he said gently, " just one 
drop in memory of my friend." 

The implied sanctity of the appeal could not be de- 
nied. Both my wife and I partook of half a glass, and 
though I am by nature an abstainer, I must acknowl- 
edge that it tasted very good. Old Brancker's hand 
trembled as he poured out the Chartreuse. He drank 
his at a gulp, and as though the emotion were not yet 
stilled, he had another one. Then he rose, and, taking 
my wife's arm, he led her to the easy chair by the fire. 
I was rather proud of my intimate knowledge of the 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 117 

old actor's possessions, and I pointed out the snuff-box 
which Nellie Farren had given him, and the photo- 
graph of Irving, with its inscription " To my dear old 
friend." 

Brancker sighed and shrugged his shoulders. Per- 
haps one does not boast of these associations. Perhaps 
it is vulgar, but I knew how interested Alice would be. 
When we had done a round of the rooms, whither in his 
fatherly way he had conducted my wife by the arm, 
and occasionally rested his hand ever so lightly on her 
shoulder, we returned to the dining-room, and Alice 
said: 

" Now show me this little white frock ! " 

He bowed, and without a word went out into the 
hall, and returned with the frock, which he spread 
reverently over the back of a chair. 

" How perfectly sweet ! " said my wife. 

For a few moments he buried his head in his hands, 
and Alice and I were silent. I could not but observe 
the interesting mise-en-scene in which I found myself. 
The dim recesses of the room, heavy with memories. 
My wife cozily curled up in the high arm-chair, the 
firelight playing on her fresh, almost childlike, face, 
a simple ring sparkling on her finger, and on the pearly 
glint of her diaphanous gown. On the other side of 
the table where the little glasses stood, the clear-cut 
features and long snow-white hair of the old actor, 
silhouetted against a dark cabinet. And then, like some 
fragile ghost recalled to bear witness to its tragic past, 
the dim outline of the child's white frock. 



118 LITTLE WHITE FROCK 

" It was before your time, mes enfants, long, long 
before your time," lie said suddenly. " You would not 
remember the famous Charles Cai-side Company who 
staiTed the provinces. We became known as the Ca- 
pacity Company. The title was doubly-earned. We 
always played to full houses, and in those days — " 

He turned to me with a penetrating, almost challeng- 
ing look, and added: 

" There were actors. Comedy, and tragedy, history, 
everything worth doing, in the legitimate, was in our 
repertoire. We changed our bill every night, and some- 
times twice a day. Ay, and we changed our parts, 
sir. I remember Terry O'Bane and I reversing the 
parts of Othello and lago on alternate nights for two 
weeks at a stretch. I played Lord Stamford to his 
Puttick in ' The Golden Dawn.' He played Shylock 
to my Bassanio. I will not bore you with these details. 
Ah ! poor old Terry ! Poor dear old Terry ! " 

He stopped and looked down at his hands, and neither 
of us spoke. 

" When I say that Terry O'Bane and I were friends, 
I want to tell you that we were friends as only artists 
can be friends. We loved each other. For three years 
we worked together side by side — never a suspicion 
of envy, never a suspicion of jealousy. I remember 
one night, after Terry's delivery of Jaques' speech on 
the fool, he did not get a hand. I found him weeping 
in the wings. ' Old fellow ! ' I said, but he gripped me 
by the arai. ' Colly boy,' he answered, ' I was think- 
ing of you. I knew how distressed you would be ! ' 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 119 

Think of that ! His only concern was that / should be 
distressed. Ah ! in those days . . ." 

He stretched his long white fingers and examined 
them ; then, turning suddenly to my wife, he said : 

" I want to ask you, mademoiselle " (he persisted 
in calling her 'mademoiselle' all the evening), "to 
make allowances in what I am about to tell you for the 
tempora et mores. In my young days love had a 
different significance to what it has now. In this 
modern world I obsei've nothing but expediency and 
opportunism. Xo one is prepared to sacrifice, to run 
risks. The love between O'Bane and me was an epic 
of self-sacrifice, and it ran its full course. It found its 
acid test on the day when Sophie Wiles joined our com- 
pany at Leeds." 

He stood up, and his voice trembled in a low whisper. 
Looking at Alice, he said : 

" She was as beautiful, as fragile, as adorable as you 
are, mademoiselle. Strange how these great secrets are 
conveyed imperceptibly. O'Bane and I looked at each 
other, and instinctively we understood. We said noth- 
ing. We made no comment about her. We were en- 
tirely solicitous of each other's feelings. We referred 
to her as ' Miss Wiles ' and we addressed her as ' Miss 
Wiles.' Before we had been three weeks on the road I 
knew that if I had not kno^vii O'Bane's feelings I should 
have gone to her and said, ' Sophie, my darling, my 
angel, I love you, I adore you. Will you marry me ? ' 
But would it have been chivalrous to do this, knowing 
O'Bane's sentiments ? We were two months on the road 



120 LITTLE WHITE EKOCK 

before the matter reached its climax. And during that 
time — under an unspoken compact — neither of us 
made love to Sophie. And then, one night, I could bear 
it no longer. I saw the drawn and hungry look in my 
colleague's eye as he watched her from the wings. I 
went up to him and whispered, ' Old fellow, go in and 
win. She's worthy of you.' He understood me at 
once, and he pressed my hand. ' Colly,' he said, ' you're 
right. This can't go on. Meet me after the show and 
come round to my rooms.' " 

The old actor's lips were trembling. He drew his 
chair nearer to my wife's. " I cannot tell you of the 
heart-burning interview I had with my old friend that 
night. Each tried to give way to the other. It was 
very terrible, very moving. At length we decided that 
the only solution would be to put the matter to a hazard. 
We could not cut cards or throw dice. It seemed pro- 
fane. We decided to play a game of chess. We set 
out the pieces and began. But at the end of a few 
moments it was apparent that each was trying to let the 
other win. ^ Stay,' I said ; ' we must leave the verdict 
to impartial destiny, after all,' and I rose. On the 
sideboard — as it might be here — was a large bowl of 
Gloire-de-Dijon roses. I took the largest bloom and 
said, ' Terry, old boy, if there are an odd number of 
petals in this rose, she is yours. If an even number, I 
will pay her court.' He agreed. Slowly and deliber- 
ately, petal by petal, I destroyed the beautiful bloom. 
There were fifty-eight petals. When Terry saw the last 
petal fall he turned white and swayed. I helped him 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 121 

to the easj-chair and handed liim a little grog. It was 
nearly dauTi. Already the birds were twittering on the 
window-sill." 

He turned and gazed at the window as though even 
now the magic of that early moraing was upon him. 

" The dauTi was clear for me, but for my friend how 
dark and foreboding! Or so it seemed to both of us 
at that hour. But, as Mahomet said, ' With women, 
life is a condition of flux.' At eleven o'clock that 
morning I was on my bended knees to Sophie. I poured 
out all my pent-up feelings of the two months. There 
are some things too sacred to repeat even to those who 
are — dear to us." 

He gasped and, stretching out his arm, poured out 
another glass of the Chartreuse. 

" She refused me, or if she did not actually refuse 
me — indeed, she did not ; she was sympathetic, almost 
loving, but so — indeterminate that I was almost driven 
to a frenzy of despair. When one is young, one is like 
that. One must have all, and at once, or go crazy with 
despair. For a week I courted her day and night, 
and I could not make her decide. She liked me, but 
she did not love me. At the end of that time, I went to 
O'Bane, and I said, ' Old man, it is your call. My 
pai*t is played.' Under great pressure from me he 
consented to enter the lists, and I withheld my hand 
as he had done. Even now the memory of that week of 
anguish when I knew that my greatest friend was 
making love to my adored is almost unbearable. At 
the end of the week he came to me and said, ' Old boy, 



122 LITTLE WHITE FKOCK 

I don't know how I stand. She likes me, but I hardly 
think she loves me.' I will not burden you with the 
chronicle of our strange actions which followed. We 
decided that as the question was identical it should 
be an open fight in a fair field, otherwise, between us, 
we should lose her altogether. We would both pay 
court to her wherever and whenever the opportunity 
occurred. And we would do so without animosity or 
ill-will. The tour lasted three months, and I knew 
that O'Bane was winning. There was no question about 
it. He was the favorite. Every minute I was ex- 
pecting to hear the dread glad tidings. And then a 
strange thing happened." 

He leant back in his chair and passed his hands 
through his hair with a graceful gesture. 

" An uncle in Australia died and left O'Bane an 
enormous fortune. He was rich beyond the dreams of 
avarice. The company all knew of it, and were de- 
lighted, all — all except one person." 

He glanced towards my wife, and sighed. 

" I have lived a good many years, and yet I seem 
to find the heart of woman as unfathomable, as unex- 
plorable as ever. They are to me the magic casements 
opening on the night. There is no limit . . . every 
subtle human experience is capable of endless variation. 
Sophie refused to marry O'Bane because people would 
think she married him for his money. The anguish 
of those last weeks I shall never forget. She definitely 
refused him, and I was torn between my love for O'Bane 
and my love for Sophie. I can say with perfect truth — 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 123 

literal truth — that the fortune killed O'Baue. When 
Ave aiTived in London, he began to squander. He 
drank, gambled, and led a depraved life, all because 
the woman he loved would not marry him. In the 
spring he left the company and took a house in town. 
It became the happy hunting-ground of loose characters. 
It is needless to say that if Sophie wouldn't man-y him, 
there were plenty of other women willing to marry a 
young millionaire. He became entangled with a fast 
and pretty creature called Annabel Peacock. He mar- 
ried her, and in the following year they had a child." 

The fire crackled on the hearth; my wife did not 
take her eyes from the old actor's face. A black cat 
strolled leisurely across the room and stretched itself 
before the fire. He continued: 

" It was then that I experienced an entirely novel 
vision of woman's character. Sophie, who would not 
marry O'Bane because he was rich, and who shivered 
with disgust in the presence of Annabel Peacock, de- 
veloped an amazing affection and interest for their child. 
We were out again in the Capacity Company. I had 
her all to myself. I laid siege to her heart. I was 
patient, tactful, importunate, imploring, passionate. 
But it was all no good, my boy ... no good at all. 
Heigho ! would you believe it ? — for ten years of my 
life from that date I was that woman's slave, and she 
was the slave of Teri-y's child. Company after com- 
pany I joined in order to be with her. I gave up good 
parts. I sacrificed leads, and in fact I even accepted 
a walk-on — anything to be with Sophie. Sophie, who 



124 LITTLE WHITE FROCK 

would not listen to me, who treated me like a little pet, 
to run hither and thither, and who spent all her money 
and time on toys and clothes for Terry's child. Would 
you believe it ? " 

To my surprise, my wife spoke for the first time. 
She said: "Yes." 

Brancker looked at her keenly, and nodded. 

" Yes. In any affair between a man and a woman, 
a man finds himself at a disadvantage. Mademoiselle, 
you see, understands. Women have all kinds of mys- 
terious intuitions and senses which we wot not of. 
She is armed at every point. She has more resources. 
She is better-equipped than man. Sophie even made a 
friend of Annabel. She wrote her loving letters and 
called her ' my dearest.' For you must know that two 
years after his marriage my old friend Terry O'Bane 
went under. He awakened one night feeling ill; he 
groped in a chest where he usually kept a flask of 
brandy. He took a gulp. The liquid he drew into 
his throat was pure liquid ammonia which Annabel had 
been using for photographic work. She was a keen 
amateur photographer. He rushed out into the street 
in his pajamas, and died in the arms of a policeman 
at the comer." 

The hon-or of this episode was written plainly in 
the old man's face. He delivered it with a kind of 
dramatic despair, as though he knew it had to be told 
and he could not control himself. Then he seemed 
to fall to pieces, and lay huddled at the back of his 
chair. I looked at Alice furtivelv, and 1 could see 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 125 

a tear swimminc^ on the brink of her eye. It was some 
moments before he could continue. 

" These were all the best years of my life, mcs en- 
fants, when my powers were at their highest. My old 
friend Toole offered me a good part in London. He 
said to me, ' Brancker, old man, you're wasting your- 
self in the provinces. Come to town and take a lead.' 
I could only press his hand and thank him. In another 
week or two I was on the road again with Sophie. As 
the years went by she became more and more absorbed 
by Terry's unattractive child, and more and more dis- 
tressed concerning it. For you must know that in 
spite of his profligate life, Terry still had left a con- 
siderable fortune, and Annabel continued to live in the 
same way. And it was the worst possible atmosphere 
to bring a child up in. Annabel was kind to the child 
in a spasmodic way, passionate and unreliable. She 
would pet it and coax it, and buy it expensive toys and 
dresses, and then suddenly neglect or scold it. Sophie 
knew this, and all the time she could spare she went 
to London and tried to help the situation. She 
humored and flattered Annabel, who was quite manage- 
able if you treated her like this, and she did what she 
could to influence the early training of the child for 
good. But, as you may imagine, the little minx grew 
up the spit and image of her mother. She was vain, 
fickle, and spoilt. By the time she was ten she thought 
of nothing but her looks and her frocks; and she was 
indeed a very pretty child. She had all the prettiness 
of her mother, with something of her father's grace and 



126 LITTLE WHITE FROCK 

charm. She was encouraged to amuse the vulgar people 
who came to the house, and she was allowed to listen 
to all the loose talk, and to sit up to any hour she liked, 
unless Annabel happened to be in a contrary mood, 
when she woidd slap the child and lock her in her 
room. 

" ' Aunt Sophie,' as she called her, was a favorite with 
Lucy, but only, I'm afraid, because ' Aunt Sophie ' 
gave her expensive toys, and lavished her love per- 
sistently upon the child. She wrote to her nearly every 
day, wherever she happened to be, and sent her little 
gifts." 

The old man mopped his forehead. He was evi- 
dently laboring under the severe strain which the in- 
voking of these memories put upon him. He walked 
to the sideboard and poured himself out a glass of water, 
into which he poured — an as after-thought — a tiny 
drop of rum. After taking two long, meditative gulps, 
he resumed his seat. He seemed to have forgotten 
all about our presence. He was living in the past. But 
suddenly he turned to my wife and said: 

" I have many of the beautiful frocks which Sophie 
made for little Lucy. They have come down to me. 
If it would not bore you to call one afternoon, made- 
moiselle, I could show you some that might interest 
you." There was a strange, eager appeal in his voice. 
It seemed a matter of tremendous moment that Alice 
should go and inspect the frocks. My heart bled for 
him. " Of course she will go," I thought, but to my 
surprise, she said nothing. She just looked at him with 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 127 

that queer, watchful expression that women alone arc 
capable of. Perhaps it is part of what the old chap 
referred to — their equipment. She toyed with the 
chain on her frock, and his eye meditated her move- 
ments. He hesitated, and then rather nervously pro- 
ceeded, as though talking to himself. 

" Frocks ! What a part they play in our lives. 
Carlyle was right. Sophie was extraordinarily clever 
with her needle. She had a genius for combining mate- 
rials. Her theatrical experience helped her. She 
made the most alluring frocks. The child adored 
' Aunt Sophie's ' frocks. They always looked so strik- 
ing and so professional. The crisis in my life, and 
which I am about to tell you of, was indeed occasioned 
by one of the frocks which Sophie made for Lucy. It 
came about in this way." 

He paused again, and tapped the top of the table 
with his beautiful white hands. 

" That last year — that year when Lucy reached her 
tenth birthday — the excesses in Annabel's house 
reached their zenith. The place became notorious. 
Annabel had taken to herself a drunken lord. Lord 
Starborough. He was a dissipated young roue. He 
rather took a fancy to Lucy, and he spoilt her in the 
same way that Annabel did. We heard stories of the 
goings on. The child was taken to houses to dance. I 
believe she was even taught to put on rouge. There 
was a rich family called the Ark\vrights, who also had 
children, and who lived a similar life. These children 
were Lucy's great friends. They vied with each other 



128 LITTLE WHITE FEOCK 

in their infantile snobbery. The parents gave elaborate 
parties and tried to outshine each other in the lavish- 
ness of their entertainment, and the overdressing of the 
children. It was very, very painful. Even I, whose 
life was being wrecked by Sophie's adulation of this 
child, felt sorry. My heart bled for my old friend's 
daughter. 

" We had a long tour that autumn, Sophie and I. 
We were out in ' The Woman Who Failed.' Sophie 
had a lead, but I was only playing the part of a butler. 
It was a long and trying tour up I^orth. The weather 
was very bitter. There was a good deal of sickness, and 
our chief was a hard man. Early in December Sophie 
caught a cold which rapidly developed into bronchitis. 
She had a narrow escape. She was, however, only out 
of the bill for ten days. She insisted on returning and 
struggling on. The tour was to end on Christmas Eve. 
One day she had a letter from Lucy. I remember the 
exact words to this day. ' Dear Aunt Sophie, do make 
me a lovely frock for Christmas Eve. The Arkwrights 
are having a lovely ball, and I know Irene is having a 
gold and green, with a sparkling veil. Your loving 
Lucy.' 

" When Sophie got this letter she smiled. She was 
happy. She was always happy when doing a service. 
Ah ! me. . . . For nearly a week she thought and 
dreamt about the frock she was going to make for Lucy 
for the Arkwrights' party. She knew what the child 
wanted — a frock to outshine all the others. Then 
another story reached us. I have forgotten what it was : 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 129 

some distressing record of these Arkwrigbt people. 
One night after the show she sent for me. I could tell 
she was very agitated. She clutched my arm, and said, 
* Old man, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to 
make Lucy a frock which will outshine all the others. 
And it will be just a plain white frock, with no adorn- 
ment of any sort. Just think of it, — amongst all those 
vulgar, overdressed children, one little girl, as pretty as 
Lucy, — in plain white. And they will be bound to 
appreciate it. It will tell. And perhaps she will real- 
ize — what it means. Good taste and refinement will 
always tell against vulgarity.' I applauded Sophie's 
idea, and I went with her to get the material. But 
she fainted in the shop. During those last few days 
I began to realize that Sophie was very ill. She was 
simply living on her nervous force, keeping herself 
going in order to complete the tour, and to deliver 
Lucy's frock in time for the ball. 

" Our last journey back was from Nottingham. We 
arrived in London at five o'clock on Christmas Eve. I 
was in a fever of dread. I believed that Sophie was 
dying. She kept swaying in the train as though she 
was going to drop. Her face was deadly-white, her 
eyes unnaturally bright, and her fingers were still busy 
on the frock. So absorbed had I been in Sophie's 
affairs, I had made no arrangements about lodgings in 
town. Neither had she. But my old friend, Joe Cad- 
gers, seeing my distress, said, ' Old boy, leave it to me. 
I know a snug little place where they'll take you in. 
I'm not stopping. I'm going straight through to Hast- 



130 LITTLE WHITE EROCK 

ings.' I thanked my old friend ajid embraced him. 
When we got to Euston, we got Sophie into a four- 
wheeled cab, and Joe Gadgers came with us to arrange 
the introduction. I hardly noticed where the lodgings 
were — somewhere in Clapham, I think. We arrived 
there, and a good lady took us in without hesitation. 
We put Sophie to bed. She was almost delirious, but 
still the frock was not quite finished. Joe left us, and 
I sat by her bedside, watching her busy fingers. I 
knew it was useless to protest. The clock on the man- 
telpiece ticked, and outside the snow was beginning to 
fall." 

Colin Brancker stood up, and suddenly picked up 
the little white frock from the back of the chair. He 
held it in his arms reverently and tenderly. His voice 
was strong and resonant. He stood there, and acted the 
scene vividly before our eyes. 

" At ten minutes to seven I left the house, holding 
the frock in my arms. I rushed out without a hat, with- 
out a coat. I fiew along the street, calling out for a 
cab like a madman. ... At last I got one. I told the 
driver to drive like the furies to the address I gave 
him in Kensington. In the cab I stamped my feet 
and rocked the dress in my arms as though it were a 
fevered child. I don't know how we got there. It 
seemed an eternity. I fiung into the house, calling out, 
' Lucy ! Lucy ! ' I found her in the drawing-room. 
She was dressed in a flaming orange and silver dress, 
with a sparkling tiara in her hair. She was looking in 
a mirror and putting finishing touches to her hair. 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 131 

She cried out Avheu she saw me : ' ITiillo ! I thought 
Aunt Sophie had forgotten me. I've hired a frock from 
Roco's.' ' Child,' I said, ' your Aunt Sophie has been 
working out her life's blood for you. Here is the 
frock.' She grabbed it and examined it. ' Frock ! ' 
she said. ' It looks more like a nightdress. I don't 
want the beastly old thing ' ; and she threw it across 
the room. I believe at that moment I could have 
struck the child. I was blind with fury. Fortunately, 
I remembered in time that she was my old friend Terry 
O'Bane's daughter. I picked up the frock. ' Ungrate- 
ful child ! ' I exclaimed. ' You don't know what you're 
doing. You're murdering an ideal. You're killing 
your aunt.' She tossed her insolent head and actually 
pressed the bell for the butler to see me out. Just like 
a grown-up person. Dazed and baffled, I clutched the 
little white frock and staggered out into the street. 
The night was dark, and the snow was still falling. 
Christmas bells were beginning to peal. ... I plunged 
on and on, my heart beating against my ribs. People 
stared at me, but I was too distressed to care. How 
could I go back to Sophie with the insulting message? 
Suddenly, at the corner of Hyde Park, a most appalling 
realization flashed through my mind. I had made no 
note of the address of the lodgings where Sophie and I 
tvere staying ! . . . God in heaven ! What was I to 
do ? The only man who could help me, my old friend, 
Joe Gadgers, had gone to Hastings. What could I do ? 
Could I go to the police and say, ' Will you help me 
to find the^ address of some lodgings where an actress is 



132 LITTLE WHITE FROCK 

staying ? I think it's somewhere round about Clapham. 
I don't know the name of the landlady, or the name 
of the street, or the number ? ' They would have 
thought I was mad. Perhaps I was mad. Should I 
go back to Lucy ? The child wouldn't know. . . . And 
all this time Sophie was dying. Ah ! merciful God ! 
perhaps she would die. If she died before I found 
her, she would die in the happy belief that the frock 
had been worn. Her last hours would be blessed with 
dreams, visions of purity and joy . . . whilst I ... I 
should have no place in them, perhaps . . . but I, too, 
after all, I'd suffered for her sake. Who knows ? . . . 
Who know ... ? " 

His voice broke off in a low sob. I leant forward 
watching his face, racked with anguish. The room was 
extraordinarily still. ... I dared not look at Alice, but 
I was conscious of the pearly sheen of her frock under 
the lamp. Away in the distance one could hear the 
rumble of the traffic on the High-road. The remorse- 
less tick of the clock was the only sound in the room. 
Once I thought it ticked louder, and then I realized 
that it was some one tapping gently at the door. The 
door opened a little way, and against the dim light in 
the passage appeared the gaunt face of the old serving- 
woman, phantom-like, unreal. . . . 

" Excuse me, sir." She peered into the room. The 
old actor gazed at her with unseeing eyes. He stood with 
one hand on tlie back of the chair, and across the other 
ann lay the white frock ; a dignified and pathetic figure. 

" I'm sorry to trouble you, sir," 



LITTLE WHITE FROCK 133 

"Yes, Mrs. Windsor?" 

" My little niece 'as just called. I can't find it any- 
where — that little frock I made for 'er last week. I 
put it in the chest. I thought perhaps you might 'ave 
. . . Oh ! there it is, sir. Do you mind — ? Thank 
you very much, sir. I'm sorry to have disturbed the 
company." 

In the sanctuary of our bedroom that night, my wife 
said: 

" Did you a-eally believe that that writing on the 
photograph was by Henry Irving ? " 

" My dear," I answered, " Avhen their careers are 
finished, the painter, the author, the architect or the 
sculptor may point to this or that, and say, ' Lo ! this 
is my handiwork.' But to the actor nothing remains 
but — memories. Their permanence lies in the mem- 
ories of those who loved them. Are we to begiTidge 
them all the riches of imagination ? After all, what is 
the line of demarcation between what we call reality 
and what we call imagination ? Is not the imagery in- 
voked by Shelley when he sings of dubious myths as 
real a fact as the steel rivets in the Forth Bridge? 
What is reality ? Indeed, what is life ? " 

" I don't know what life is," answered my wife, 
switching off the light. " But I know what you are. 
You're a dear old — perfect old — BOOB ! " 

" Alice, what do you mean ? " I said. 

She laughed softly. 

" Women are ' equipped,' you know," she replied 
enigmatically, and insisted on going to sleep. 



A GOOD ACTION 



A GOOD ACTION 

IT is undoubtedly tnie that the majority of us per- 
form the majority of our actions through what are 
commonly known as mixed motives. 
It would certainly have been quite impossible for Mr. 
Edwin Pothecary to analyze the concrete impulse which 
eventually prompted him to perform his good action. 
It may have been a natural revolt from the somewhat 
petty and cramped punctilio of his daily life; his drab 
home life, the bickering, wearing, grasping routine of 
the existence of fish-and-chips dispenser. A man who 
earns his livelihood by buying fish and potatoes in 
the cheapest market, and selling them in the Waterloo 
Eoad cannot afford to indulge his altruistic fancies to 
any lavish extent. It is true that the business of Mr. 
Edwin Pothecary was a tolerably successful one — he 
employed three assistants and a boy named Scales 
who was not so much an assistant as an encumbrance 
and wholesale plate-smasher. Mr. Pothecary engaged 
him because he thought his name seemed appropriate to 
the fish-trade. In a weak moment he pandered to this 
sentimental whim, another ingredient in the strange 
composition which influences us to do this, that, and 
the other. But it was not by pandering to whims of 
this nature that Mr. Pothecary had built up this pro- 

gi'essive and odoriferous business with its gay shop 

137 



138 A GOOD ACTIOI^ 

front of blue and brown tiles. It was merely a minor 
lapse. In the fish-and-cbip trade one has to be keen, 
pushful, self-reliant, ambidexterous, a student of human 
nature, forbearing, far-seeing, imaginative, courageous, 
something of a controversialist with a streak of fatalism 
as pronounced as that of a high-priest in a Brahmin 
temple. It is better, moreover, to have an imperfect 
nasal organism, and to be religious. 

Edwin had all these qualities. Every day he went 
from Quince Villa at Buffington to London — forty 
minutes in the train — and back at night. On Sunday 
he took the wife and three children to the Methodist 
Chapel at the comer of the street to both morning and 
evening services. But even this religious observance 
does not give us a complete solution for the sudden 
prompting of an idea to do a good action. Edwin had 
attended chapel for fifty-two years and such an impulse 
had never occurred to him before. He may possibly 
have been influenced by some remark of the preacher, 
or was it that twinge of gout which set him thinking 
of the unwritten future ? Had it anything to do with 
the Boy-Scout movement ? Some one at some time had 
told him of an underlying idea — that every day in 
one's life one should do one pure, good and unselfish 
action. 

Perhaps after all it was all due to the gayety of a 
spring morning. Certain it is that as he swung out of 
the garden gate on that morning in April something 
stirred in him. His round puffy face blinked heaven- 
wards. Almond blossoms fluttered in the breeze above 



A GOOD ACTION 139 

the hedgerows. Larks were singing. . . . Suddenly 
his eye alighted upon the roof of the Peels' hen-house 
opposite and Mr. Edwin Pothecary scowled. Lord! 
How he hated those people! The Peels were Pothe- 
cary's hetes-noires. Snobs! Pirates! Rotters! 

The Peels' villa was at least three times as big as 
the Pothecarys'. It was, in fact, not a villa at all. It 
was a " Court " — whatever that was. It was quite 
detached, with about fourteen rooms in all, a coach- 
house, a large garden, and two black sheds containing 
forty-five fowls, leading an intensive existence. The 
Pothecarys had five fowls which sometimes did and 
sometimes didn't supply them with two or three eggs 
a day, but it was known that the Peels sent at least two 
hundred and fifty eggs to market every week, besides 
supplying their own table. Mr. Peel was a successful 
dealer in quills and bristles. His wife was the daughter 
of a post office official and they had three stuck up 
daughters who would have no truck at all with the 
Pothecarys. You may appreciate then the twinge of 
venom which marked the face of Edwin as he passed 
through his front gate and observed the distant roof 
of the Peels' fowl-house. And still the almond blos- 
soms nodded at him above the hedge. The larks 
sang. . . . After all, was it fair to hate any one because 
they were better off than oneself? Strange how these 
moods obsess one. The soft air caressed Edwin's cheek. 
Little flecks of cloud scudded gayly into the suburban 
panorama. Small green shoots were appearing every- 
where. One ought not to hate any one at all — of 



140 A GOOD ACTION 

course. It is absurd. So bad for oneself, apart from 
the others. One ought rather to be kind, forgiving, 
loving all mankind. Was that a lark or a thrush? 
He knew little about birds. Fish now! ... A not 
entirely unsatisfactory business really the fried fish 
trade — when things went well. When customers were 
numerous and not too cantankerous. Quite easy to run, 
profitable. A boy came singing down the road. The 
villas clustered together more socially. There was a 
movement of spring life. . . . 

As Edwin turned the corner of the Station Road, the 
impulse crystallized. One good action. To-day he 
would perform one good, kind, unselfish, unadvertised 
action. 'No one should ever know of it. Just one to- 
day. Then perhaps one to-morrow. And so on; in 
time it might become a habit. That is how one pro- 
gressed. He took his seat in the crowded third-class 
smoker and pretended to read his newspaper, but his 
mind was too actively engaged with the problems of his 
new resolution. How? When? Where? How does 
one do a definitely good action ? What is the best way 
to go to work ? One could, of course, just quietly slip 
some money into a poor-box if one could be found. 
But would this be very good and self-sacrificing ? Who 
gets money put in a poor-box ? Surely his own family 
were poor enough, as far as that went. But he couldn't 
go back home and give his wife a sovereign. It would 
be advertising his charity, and he would look silly doing 
it. His business? He might turn up and say to his 
assistants: "Boys, you shall all have a day's holiday. 



A GOOD ACTION 141 

We'll shut up, and here's your pay for the day." Ad- 
vertising again ; besides, what about the hundreds of 
poor workers in the neighborhood who relied for their 
mid-day sustenance on " Pothecary's Pride-of-the-Ocean 
Popular Plaice to Eat ? " It would be cruel, ciiiel and 
— bad for business in the future. The public would 
lose confidence in that splendid gold-lettered tablet in 
the window which said " Cod, brill, halibut, plaice, 
pilchards always on hand. Eat them or take them 
away." 

The latter sentence did not imply that if you took 
them away you did not eat them ; it simply meant that 
you could either stand at the counter and eat them from 
a plate with the aid of a fork and your fingers (or at 
one of the wooden benches if you could find room — 
an unlikely contingency, alternatively you could 
wrap them up in a piece of newspaper and devour them 
without a fork at the comer of the street. 

No, it would not be a good action in any way to 
close the Popular Plaice to eat. Edwin came to the 
conclusion that to perform this act satisfactorily it 
were better to divorce the proceeding entirely from any 
connection with home or business. The two things 
didn't harmonize. A good action must be a special 
and separate effort in an entirely different setting. He 
would take the day off himself and do it thoroughly. 

Mr. Pothecary was known in the neighborhood of the 
Waterloo Road as " The Stinker," a title easily earned 
by the peculiar qualities of his business and the obvious 
additional fact that a Pothecary was a chemist. He 



142 A GOOD ACTION 

was a very small man, bald-headed with yellowy-white 
side whiskers, a blue chin, a perambulating nostril with 
a large wart on the port side. He wore a square bowler 
hat which seemed to thrust out the protruding flaps of 
his large ears. His greeny-black clothes were always 
too large for him and ended in a kind of thick spiral 
above his square-toed boots. He always wore a flat 
white collar — more or less clean — and no tie. This 
minor defect was easily atoned for by a heavy silver 
chain on his waistcoat from which hung gold seals and 
ribbons connecting with watches, knives, and all kinds 
of ingenious appliances in his waistcoat pockets. 

The noble intention of his day was a little chilled on 
his arrival at the shop. In the first place, although cus- 
tomers were then arriving for breakfast, the boy Scales 
was slopping water over the front step. Having se- 
verely casitigated the miscreant youth and prophesied 
that his chances of happiness in the life to come were 
about as remote as those of a dead dog-fish in the upper 
reaches of the Thames, he made his way through the 
customers to the room at the back, and there he met 
Dolling. 

Dolling was Edwin's manager, and he cannot be over- 
looked. In the first place, he was remarkably like a fish 
himself. He had the same dull expressionless eyes and 
the drooping mouth and drooping mustache. Every- 
thing about him drooped and dripped. He was always 
wet. He wore a gray flannel shirt and no collar or tie. 
His braces, trousers, and hair all seemed the same color. 
He hovered in the background with a knife, and did 



A GOOD ACTION 143 

the cutting up and dressing. He had, moreover, all the 
taciturnity of a fish, and its peculiar ability for getting 
out of a difficulty. He never spoke. He simply looked 
lugubrious, and pointed at things with his knife. And 
yet Edwin knew that he was an excellent manager. 
For it must be observed that in spite of the gold-lettered 
board outside with its fanfare of cod, brill, halibut, 
plaice and pilchards, whatever the customer asked for, 
by the time it had passed through Boiling's hand it was 
just f.sli. No nonsense about it at all. Just plain 
fish leveled with a uniform brovm crust. If you asked 
for cod you got jish. If you asked for halibut you also 
got fisJi. Dolling was something of an artist. 

On this particular morning, as Edward entered the 
back room, Dolling was scratching the side of his head 
with the knife he used to cut up the fish ; a sure sign 
that he was perplexed about something. It was not 
customary to exchange greetings in this business, and 
when he observed " the guv'nor " enter he just withdrew 
the knife from his hair and pointed it at a packing case 
on the side table. Edwin knew what this meant. He 
went up and pressed his flat nose against the chest of 
what looked like an over-worked amphibian that had 
been turned down by its own Trades Union. Edwin 
sneezed before he had had time to withdraw his nose. 

"Yes, that's a dud lot," he said. And then sud- 
denly an inspirational moment nearly overwhelmed 
him. Here was a chance. He would turn to Dolling 
and say: 

"Dolling, this fish is slightly tainted. We must 



144 A GOOD ACTION 

throw it away. We bought it at our risk. Yesterday 
morning when it arrived it was just all right, but keep- 
ing it in that hot room downstairs where you and your 
wife sleep has probably finished it. We mustn't give 
it to our customers. It might poison them — ptomaine 
poison, you know . . . eh. Dolling? " It would be a 
good action, a self-sacrificing action, eh ? But when 
he glanced at the face of Dolling he knew that such 
an explosion would be unthinkable. It would be like 
telling a duck it mustn't swim, or an artist that he 
mustn't paint, or a boy on a beach that he mustn't 
throw stones in the sea. It was the kind of job that 
Dolling enjoyed. In the course of a few hours he 
knew quite well that whatever he said, the mysterious 
and evil-smelling monster would be served out in dainty 
parcels of halibut, cod, brill, plaice, etc. 

Business was no place for a good action. Too many 
others depended on it, were involved in it. Edwin went 
up to Dolling and shouted in his ear — he was rather 
deaf: 

" I'm going out. I may not be back to-day." 

Dolling stared at the wall. He appeared about as 
interested in the statement as a cod might be that had 
just been informed that a Chinese coolie had won the 
Calcutta sweep-stake. Edwin crept out of the shop 
abashed. He felt horribly uncomfortable. He heard 
some one mutter : " Where's The Stinker off to ? " and 
he realized how impossible it would be to explain to 
any one there present that he was off to do a good action. 

" I will go to some outlying suburb," he thought. 



A GOOD ACTION 145 

Once outside in the sunshine he tried to get back into 
the benign mood. He traveled right across London and 
made for Golders Green and Heudon, a part of the world 
foreign to him. By the time he had boarded the 
Golders Green 'bus he had quite recovered himself. It 
was still a brilliant day. '' The better the day the better 
the deed," he thought aptly. He hummed inaudibly; 
that is to say, he made curious crooning noises some- 
where behind his silver chain and signets; the sound 
was happily suppressed by the noise of the 'bus. 

It seemed a very long journey. It was just as they 
were going through a rather squalid district near 
Cricklewood that the golden chance occurred to him. 
The fares had somewhat thinned. There were scarcely 
a dozen people in the 'bus. Next to him barely a yard 
away he observed a poor woman with a baby in her 
arms. She had a thin, angular, wasted face, and her 
clothes were threadbare but neat. A poor, thoroughly 
honest and deserving creature, making a bitter fight of 
it against the buffets of a cruel world. Edwin's heart 
was touched. Here was his chance. He noticed that 
from her wrist was suspended a shabby black bag, and 
the bag was open. He would slip up neai- her and drop 
in a half-crown. What joy and rapture when she ar- 
rived home and found the unexpected treasure! An 
unknown benefactor ! Edwin chuckled and wormed his 
way suiTeptitiously along the seat. Stealthily he 
fingered his half-crown and hugged it in the palm of 
his left hand. His heart beat with the excitement of 
his exploit. He looked out of the window opposite and 



146 A GOOD ACTION" 

fumbled his hand towards the opening in the bag. He 
touched it. Suddenly a sharp voice rang out: 

" That man's picking your pocket ! " 

An excited individual opposite was pointing at him. 
The woman uttered an exclamation and snatched at her 
bag. The baby cried. The conductor rang the bell. 
Every one seemed to be closing in on Edwin. In- 
stinctively he snatched his hand away and thrust it in 
his pocket (the most foolish thing he could have done). 
Every one was talking. A calm muscular-looking gen- 
tleman who had not spoken seized Edwin by the wrist 
and said calmly: 

" Look in your bag, Madam, and see whether he has 
taken anything." 

The 'bus came to a halt. Edwin muttered : 

" I assure you — nothing of the sort — " 

How could he possibly explain that he was doing just 
the opposite ? Would a single person believe a word of 
his yam about the half-crown? The woman whim- 
pered : 

" ISTo, 'e ain't taken nothin', bad luck to 'im. There 
was only four pennies and a 'alfpenny anyway. Dirty 
thief!" 

"Are you goin' to give 'im in charge?" asked the 
conductor. 

" Yer can't if 'e ain't actually taken nothin', can 
yer ? The dirty thievin' swine try in' to rob a 'ard 
workin' 'onest woman ! " 

" I wasn't ! I wasn't ! " feebly spluttered Edwin, 
blushing a ripe beetroot color. 



A GOOD ACTION 147 

" Shame ! Shame ! Chuck 'im off the 'bus ! Dirty 
sneak ! Call a copper ! " were some of the remarks 
being hurled about. 

The conductor was losing time and patience. He 
beckoned vigorously to Edwin and said: 

" Come on, off you go ! " 

There was no appeal. He got up and slunk out. 
Popular opinion was too strong against him. As he 
stepped off the back board, the conductor gave him a 
parting kick which sent him flying on to the pavement. 
It was an operation received with shrieks of laughter 
and a round of applause from the occupants of the 
vehicle, taken up by a small band of other people who 
had been attracted by the disturbance. He darted down 
a back street to the accompaniment of boos and jeers. 

It says something for Edwin Pothecary that this 
unfortunate rebuff to his first attempt to do a good 
action did not send him helter-skelter back to the fried 
fish shop in the Waterloo Road. He felt crumpled, 
bruised, mortified, disappointed, discouraged; but is 
not the path of all martyrs and reformers strewn with 
similar debris ? Are not all really disinterested actions 
liable to misconstruction ? He went into a dairy and 
partook of a glass of milk and a bun. Then he started 
out again. He would see more rural, less sophisticated 
people. In the country there must be simple, kindly 
people, needing his help. He walked for several hours 
with but a vague sense of direction. At last he came 
to a public park. A group of dirty boys were seated 
on the grass. They were apparently having a banquet. 



148 A GOOD ACTION 

They did not seem to require liim. He passed on, and 
came to an enclosure. Suddenly between some rhodo- 
dendron bushes he looked into a small dell. On a 
seat by himself was an elderly man in a shabby suit. 
He looked the picture of misery and distress. His 
hands were resting on his knees, and his eyes were 
fixed in a melancholy scrutiny on the ground. It was 
obvious that some great trouble obsessed him. He was 
as still as a shadow. It was the figure of a man lost 
in the past or — contemplating suicide ? Edwin's 
breath came quickly. He made his way to him. In 
order to do this it was necessary to climb a railing. 
There was probably another way round, but was there 
time? At any minute there might be a sudden move- 
ment, the crack of a revolver. Edwin tore his trousers 
and scratched his forearm, but he managed to enter the 
dell unobserved. He approached the seat. The man 
never looked up. Then Edwin said with sympathetic 
tears in his voice: 

" My poor fellow, may I be of any assistance — ? " 

There was a disconcerting jar. The melancholy indi- 
vidual started and turned on him angrily : 

" Blast you ! I'd nearly got it ! What the devil are 
you doing here?" 

And without waiting for an answer he darted away 
among the trees. At the same time a voice called over 
the park railings : 

" Ho ! you, there, what are you doing over there ? 
You come back the way you came. I saw yer." 

The burly figure of a park-keeper with gaiters and 



A GOOD ACTIOi^ 149 

stout stick beckoned him. Edwin got up and clambered 
back again, scratching his arm. 

" Xow then/' said the keeper. " Kame, address, age, 
and occupation, if you please." 

" I was only — " began Edwin. But what was he 
only doing? Could he explain to a park-keeper that 
he was only about to do a kind action to a poor man ? 
He spluttered and gave his name, address, age, and 
occupation. 

" Oh," exclaimed the keeper. " Fried fish, eh ? And 
what were you trying to do? Get orders? Or were 
you begging from his lordship? " 

"His lordship?" 

" That man you was speaking to was Lord Budleigh- 
Salterton, the great scientist. lie's thinkin' out 'is great 
invention, otherwise I'd go and ask ^im if 'e wanted to 
prosecute yer for being in 'is park on felonious intent 
or what." 

" I assure you — " stammered Mr. Pothecary. 

The park-keeper saw him well off the premises, and 
gave him much gratuitous advice about his future be- 
havior, darkened with melancholy prophecies regarding 
the would-be felon's strength of character to live up to it. 

Leaving the park he struck out towards the more 
rural neighlwrhood. He calculated that he must be 
somewhere in the neighborhood of Hendon. At the 
end of a lane he met a sallow-faced young man walking 
rapidly. His eyes were bloodshot and restless. He 
glanced at Edwin and stopped. 

" Excuse me, sir," he said. , 



150 A GOOD ACTION 

Edwin drew himself to attention. The young man 
looked up and down nervously. He was obviously in a 
great state of distress. 

" What can I do for you ? " 

"I — I — h-hardly like to ask you, sir, I — " 

He stammered shockingly. Edwin turned on his 
most sympathetic manner. 

" You are suffering. What is it ? " 

" Sh-Sh-Shell-shock, shir." 

"Ah!" 

At last! Some heroic reflex of the war darted 
through Edwin's mind. Here was his real chance at 
last. A poor fellow broken by the war and in need, 
neglected by an ungrateful country. Almost hidden by 
his outer coat he observed one of those little strips of 
colored ribbon, which implied more than one campaign. 

" Where did you meet your trouble ? " he asked. 

" P — P — P-Palestine, sir, capturing a T-T-Turkish 
redoubt. I was through Gallipoli, too, sir, but I won't 
d-d-distress you. I am in a — in a — hospital at St. 
Albans, came to see my g-g-g-girl, but she's g-g-g-gone 
— v-v-vanished. . . ." 

" You don't say so ! " 

" T-t-trouble is I 1-1-1-lost my p-pass back. N-not 
quite enough m-mon — " 

" Dear me ! How much short are you ? " 

" S-S-S-Six shill — S-S-S-Six — " 

" Six shillings ? Well, I'm very sorry. Look here, 
my good fellow, here's seven-and-sixpence and God bless 
you ! " 



A GOOD ACTION 151 

" T-T-thank you very much, sir. W-will you give me 
your n-name and — " 

" No, no, no, that's quite all right. I'm very pleased 
to be of assistance. Please forget all about it.''' 

He pressed the soldier's hand and hurried on. It 
was done. He had performed a kind, unselfish action 
and no one should ever hear of it. Mr. Pothecary's 
eyes glowed with satisfaction. Poor fellow ! even if the 
story were slightly exaggerated, what did it matter? 
He was obviously a discharged soldier, ill, and in need. 
The seven-and-sixpence would make an enormous differ- 
ence. He would always cherish the memory of his 
kind, unkno\vn benefactor. It was a glorious sensa- 
tion! Why had he never thought of doing a kindly 
act? It was inspiring, illuminating, almost intoxicat- 
ing ! He recalled with zest the delirious feeling which 
ran through him when he said, " No, no, no ! " He 
would not give his name. He was the good Samaritan, 
a ship passing in the night. And now he would be 
able to go home, or go back to his business. He swung 
down the lane, singing to himself. As he turned the 
comer he came to a low bungalow-building. It was 
in a rather deserted spot. It had a board outside which 
announced " Tea, cocoa, light refreshments. Cyclists 
catered for." 

It was past mid-day, and although tea and cocoa had 
never made any great appeal to the gastronomic fancies 
of Edwin Pothecary, he felt in his present spiritually 
elevated mood that here was a suitable spot for a well- 
merited rest and lunch. 



1.52 A GOOD ACTION 

He entered a deserted room, filled with light oak 
chairs, and tables with green-tiled tops on which were 
placed tin vases containing dried ferns. A few blue- 
bottles darted away from the tortuous remains of what 
had once apparently been a ham, lurking behind tall 
bottles of sweets on the counter. The room smelt of 
soda and pickles. Edwin rapped on the table for some 
time, but no one came. At last a woman entered from 
the front door leading to the garden. She was fat and 
out of breath. 

Edwin coughed and said: 

" Good-mornin', madam. May I have a bite of some- 
thin' ? " 

The woman looked at him and continued panting. 
When her pulmonary contortions had somewhat sub- 
sided she said: 

" I s'pose you 'aven't seen a pale young man up the 
lane?" 

It was difficult to know what made him do it, but 
Edwin lied. He said : 

" Ko." 

" Oh ! " she replied. " I don't know where 'e's got 
to. 'E's not s'posed to go out of the garden. 'E's 
been ill, you know." 

"Eeally!" 

" 'E's my nefyer, but I can't always keep an eye on 
'im. 'E's a bright one, 'e is. I shall 'ave 'im sent 
back to the 'ome." 

" Ah, poor fellow ! I suppose he was — injured in 
the war ? " 



A GOOD ACTION 153 

"War!" The plump lady snorted. She became 
almost aggressive and confidential. She came close up 
to Edwin and shook her finger backwards and forwards 
in front of his eyes. 

" I'll tell yer 'ow much war 'e done. When they 
talked about conscription, 'e got that frightened, 'e 
went out every day and tried to drink himself from a 
Al man into a C III man, and by God ! 'e succeeded." 

" You don't say so ! " 

" I do say so. And more. When 'is turn came, 'e 
was in the 'orspital with Delirious Trimmings." 

"My God!" 

" 'E's only just come out. 'E's all right as long as 'e 
don't get 'old of a little money." 

" What do you mean ? " 

" If 'e can get 'old of the price of a few whiskies, 
'e'll 'ave another attack come on ! What are yer goin' 
ter 'ave — tea or cocoa ? " 

" I must go ! I must go ! " exclaimed the only cus- 
tomer Mrs. Boggins had had for two days, and gripping 
his umbrella he dashed out of the shop. 

" Good Lord ! there's another one got 'em ! " ejacu- 
lated the good landlady. " I wonder whether 'e pinched 
anything while I was out? 'Ere! Come back, you 
dirty little bow-legged swipe ! " 

But Mr. Pothecary was racing down the lane, mutter- 
ing to himself : " Yes, that was a good action ! A very 
good action indeed ! " 

A mile further on he came to a straggling village, 
a forlorn unkempt spot, only relieved by a gaudy inn 



154 A GOOD ACTION 

called " The Two Tumblers." Edwin staggered into the 
private bar and drank two pints of Government ale and 
a double gin as the liquid accompaniment to a hunk 
of bread and cheese. 

It was not tiU he had lighted his pipe after the 
negotiation of these delicacies that he could again focus 
his philosophical outlook. Then he thought to himself : 
" It's a rum thing 'ow difficult it is to do a good action. 
You'd think it 'd be dead easy, but everythin' seems 
against yer. One must be able to do it somewhere. 
P'raps one ought to go abroad, among foreigners and 
black men. That's it ! That's why all these 'ere Bible 
Society people go out among black people, Chinese and 
so on. They find there's nothin' doin' over 'ere." 

Had it not been for the beer and gin it is highly 
probable that Edwin would have given up the project, 
and have returned to fish and chips. But lying back 
in a comfortable seat in " The Two Tumblers " his 
thoughts mellowed. He felt broad-minded, comfort- 
able, tolerant . . . one had to make allowances. There 
must be all sorts of ways. Money wasn't the only 
thing. Besides, he was spending too much. He 
couldn't afford to go on throwing away seven-and-six- 
pences. One must be able to help people — by helping 
them. Doing things for them which didn't cost money. 
He thought of Sir Walter Baleigh throwing down his 
cloak for Queen Elizabeth to walk over. Romantic but 
— extravagant and silly, really a shrewd political move, 
no doubt; not a good action at all. If he met an ill- 
clad tramp he could take off his coat and wrap round 



A GOOD ACTION 155 

his shoulders and then — ? Walk home to Quince 
Villa in his braces ? Wliat would Mrs. Pothecarv have 
to say ? Phew ! One could save people from drown- 
ing, but he didn't know how to swim. Fire! Per- 
haps there would be a fire. lie could swann up a ladder 
and save a woman from the top bedroom window. 
Heroic, but hardly inconspicuous ; not exactly what he 
had meant. Besides, the firemen would never let him ; 
they always kept these showy stunts for themselves. 
There miist be something. . . . 

He walked out of " The Two Tumblers." 
Crossing the road, he took a turning off the High 
Street. He saw a heavily-built woman carrying a 
basket of washing. He hurried after her, and raising 
his hat, said : " Excuse me, madam, may I carry your 
basket for you ? " 

She turned on him suspiciously and glared: 
" No, thanks, Mr. Bottle-nose. I've 'ad some of that 
before. You 'op it! Mrs. Jaggs 'ad 'ers pinched last 
week that way." 

" Of course," he thought to himself as he hurried 
away. " The trouble is I'm not dressed for the part. 
A bloomin' swell can go about doin' good actions all day 
and not arouse suspicions. If I try and 'elp a girl off 
a, tram-car I get my face slapped." 

Mr. Pothecary was learning. He was becoming a 
complete philosopher, but it was not till late in the 
afternoon that he suddenly realized that patience and 
industry are always rewarded. He was appealed to by 
a maiden in distress. 



156 A GOOD ACTION" 

It came about in this way. He found the atmos- 
phere of Northern London entirely unsympathetic to 
good deeds. All his action appeared suspect. He be- 
gan to feel at last like a criminal. He was convinced 
that he was being watched and followed. Once he 
patted a little girl's head in a paternal manner. Imme- 
diately a woman appeared at a doorway and bawled out : 

" 'Ere, Lizzie, you come inside ! " 

At length in disgust he boarded a south-bound 'bus. 
He decided to experiment nearer home. He went to 
the terminus and took a train to the station just before 
his own. It was a small town called Uplingham. This 
should be the last dance of the moral philanderer. If 
there was no one in Uplingham upon whom he could 
perform a good action, he would just walk home — 
barely two miles — and go to bed and forget all about 
it. To-morrow he would return to Fish-and-chips, and 
the normal behavior of the normal citizen. 

Uplingham was a dismal little town, consisting 
mostly of churches, chapels and pubs, and apparently 
quite deserted. As Edwin wandered through it there 
crept over him a sneaking feeling of relief. If he 
met no one — well, there it was, he had done his best ; 
and he could go home with a clear conscience. After 
all it was the spirit that counted in these things. . . . 

" 0-o-oh ! " 

He was passing a small stone church, standing back 
on a little frequented lane. The maiden was seated 
alone in the porch and she was crying. Edwin bustled 
through the gate and as he approached her he had time 



A GOOD ACTION 157 

to observe that she was young, quietly dressed, and dis- 
tinctly pretty. 

" You are in trouble," he said in his most feeling 
manner. 

She looked up at him quickly, and dabbed her eyes. 

" I've lost my baby ! I've lost my baby ! " she cried. 

"Dear, dear, that's very unfortunate! How did it 
happen ? " 

She pointed at an empty perambulator in the porch. 

" I waited an hour here for my friends and husband 
and the clergyman. My baby was to be christened." 
She gasped incoherently. " No one turned up. I went 
across to the Vicarage. The Vicar was away. I be- 
lieve I ought to have gone to St. Bride's. This is St. 
Paul's. They didn't know anything about it. They 
say people often make that mistake. "When I got back 
the baby was gone. 0-o-o-oh ! " 

" There, there, don't cry," said Mr. Pothecary. 
" Now I'll go over to St. Bride's and find out about it." 

" Oh, sir, do you mind waiting here with the peram- 
bulator while I go? I want my baby. I want my 
baby." 

" Why, yes, of course, of course." 

She dashed up the lane and left Mr. Pothecary in 
charge of an empty perambulator. In fifteen minutes' 
time a thick-set young man came hurrying up to the 
porch. He looked at Edwin and pointing to the peram- 
bulator said: 

" Is this Mrs. Frank's or Mrs. Fred's ? " 

" I don't know," said Edwin, rather testily. 



158 A GOOD ACTION 

" You don't know ! But you're old Binns, ain't 
you?" 

" No, I'm not." 

The young man looked at him searchingly and then 
disappeared. Ten minutes elapsed and then a small 
boy rode up on a bicycle. He was also out of breath. 

" Has Mrs. George been 'ere ? " he asked. 

" I don't know," replied Edwin. 

" Mr. Henderson says he's awfully sorry but he 
won't be able to get away. You are to kiss the baby 
for 'im." 

" I don't know anything about it." 

"This is St. Bride's, isn't it?" 

" No, this is St. Paul's." 

" Oh ! " The boy leapt on to the bicycle and also 
vanished. 

" This is absurd," thought Edwin. " Of course, the 
whole thing is as plain as daylight. The poor girl has 
come to the wrong church. The whole party is at St. 
Bride's, somebody must have taken the baby on there. 
I might as well take the perambulator along. They'll 
be pleased. Now I wonder which is the way." 

He wheeled the perambulator into the lane. There 
was no one about to ask. He progressed nearly two 
hundred yards till he came to a field with a pond in it. 
This was apparently the wrong direction. He was star- 
ing about when he suddenly became aware of a hue and 
cry. A party of people came racing down the lane 
headed by the thick-set man, who was exclaiming: 

" There he is ! There he is ! " 



A GOOD ACTION 159 

Edwin felt his heart beating. This was going to be a 
little embarrassing. Thej closed on him. The thick- 
set man seized his wrists and at the same time re- 
marked : 

" See he hasn't any firearms on him, Frank." 

The large man alluded to as Frank gripped him from 
behind. 

" What have you done with my baby ? " he demanded 
fiercely. 

" I 'aven't seen no baby," yelped Mr. Pothecary. 

" Oh ! 'Aven't yer ! What are yer doin' with my 
perambulator then ? " 

" I'm takin' it to St. Bride's Church." 

" Goin' in the opposite direction." 

" I didn't know the way." 

" Wliere's the babv ? " 

" I 'aven't seen it. I tell yer. The mother said she'd 
lost it." 

" What the hell ! Do you know the mother's in bed 
sick ? You're a liar, my man, and we're goin' to take 
you in charge. If you've done anything to my baby 
I'll kill you with my hands." 

" That's it, Frank. Let 'im 'ave it. Throw 'im in 
the pond ! " 

" I tell yer I don't know anythin' about it all, with 
yer Franks, Freds and Georges ! Go to the devil, all of 
yer!" 

In spite of his protestations, some one produced a 
rope and they handcuffed him and tied him to the gate 
of the field. A small crowd had collected and began 



160 A GOOD ACTIOIT 

to boo and jeer. A man from a cottage hard by pro- 
duced a drag, and between them they dragged the pond, 
as the general belief was that Edwin had tied a stone 
to the baby and thrown it in and was then just about to 
make off. 

The uproar continued for some time, mud and stones 
being thrown about rather carelessly. 

The crowd became impatient that no baby was found 
in the pond. At length another man turned up on a 
bicycle and called out : 

"What are you doing, Frank? You've missed the 
christening ! " 

" What ! " 

" Old Binns turned up with the nipper all right. 
He'd come round the wrong way." 

The crowd was obviously disappointed at the release 
of Edwin, and the father's only solatium was: 

" Well, it's lucky for you, old bird ! " 

He and his friends trundled the perambulator away 
rapidly across the fields. Edwin had hardly time to 
give a sigh of relief before he found himself the center 
of a fresh disturbance. He was approaching the church 
when another crowd assailed him, headed by the for- 
lorn maiden. She was still in a state of distress, but 
she was hugging a baby to her. 

" Ah ! You've found the baby ! " exclaimed Edwin, 
trying to be amiable. 

" Where is the perambulator ? " she demanded. 

" Your 'usband 'as taken it away, madam. He 
seemed to think I — " 



A GOOD ACTION IGl 

A tall frig-id young man stepped forward and said : 

"Excuse me, I am the lady's husband. Will you 
please explain yourself ? " 

Then Edwin lost his temper. 

" Well, damn it, I don't know who you all are ! " 

" The case is quite clear. You volunteered to take 
charge of the perambulator while my wife was absent. 
On her return you announce that it is spirited away. I 
shall hold you responsible for the entire cost — nearly 
ten pounds." 

" Make it a thousand/' roared Edwin. " I'm 'aving 
a nice cheap day." 

" I don't wish for any more of your insolence, either. 
My wife has had a very trying experience. The baby 
has been christened Fred." 

" Well, what's the matter with that ? '^ 

" ISTothing," screamed the mother. " Only that it is 
a girl! It's a girl and it has been duly christened 
Fred in a Christian church., Oh ! there's been an 
aAvful muddle." 

" It's not this old fool's fault," interpolated the el- 
derly woman quietly. " You see, Mrs. Frank and Mrs. 
Fred Smith were both going to have their babies chris- 
tened to-day. Only Mrs. Frank was took sick, and 
sent me along with the child. I went to the wrong 
church and thinkin' there was some mistake, went back 
home. Mrs. Frank's baby's never been christened at 
all. In the meantime, the ceremony was ready to start 
at St. Paul's and Frank 'isself was there. Ko baby. 
They sends old Binns to scout around at other churches. 



162 A GOOD ACTION 

People do make mistakes — finds this good lady's child 
all primed up for christening in the church door, and 
no one near, carries it off. In the meantime, the father 
had gone on the ramp. It's him that probably went off 
with the perambulator and trounced you up a bit, old 
sport. It'll learn you not to interfere so much in fu- 
ture perhaps." 

" And the baby's christened Fred ! " wailed the 
mother. " My baby ! My Gwendoline ! " And she 
looked at Edwin with bitter recrimination in her eyes. 

There was still a small crowd following and boys 
were jeering, and a fox-terrier, getting very excited, 
jumped up and bit Mr. Pothecary through the seat of 
his trousers. He struck at it with his stick, and hit a 
small boy, whose mother happened to be present. The 
good lady immediately entered the lists. 

" Baby-killer. . . . Hun ! " were the last words he 
heard as he was chased up the street and across the 
fields in the direction of his own village. 

Wlien he arrived it was nearly dark. Mr. Pothecary 
was tired, dirty, battered, torn, outraged, bruised and 
hatless. And his spirit hardened. The forces of re- 
action surged through him. He was done with good 
actions. He felt vindictive, spiteful, wicked. Slowly 
he took the last turning and his eye once more alighted 
on — the Peels's fowl house. 

And there came to him a vague desire to end his day 
by performing some action the contraiy to good, some- 
thing spiteful, petty, malign. His soul demanded some 
recompense for its abortive energies. And then he re- 



A GOOD ACTION 163 

membercd that the Peels were away. They were re- 
turnin<2: late that evening. The two intensive fowl- 
houses were at the end of the kitchen garden, where all 
the young spring cabbages and peas had just been 
planted. They could be approached between a slit in 
the narrow black fence adjacent to a turnip field. 
Rather a long way round. A simple and rather futile 
plan sprang into his mind, but he was too tired to think 
of anything more criminal or diabolic. 

He would creep round to the back, get through the 
fence, force his way into the fowl-house. Then he 
would kick out all those expensive Rhode Island pam- 
pered hens and lock them out. Inside he would upset 
everything and smash the place to pieces. The fowls 
would get all over the place. They would eat the young 
vegetables. Some of them would get lost, stolen by 
gypsies, killod by rats. What did he care? The Peels 
would probably not discover the outrage till the mor- 
row, and they would never know who did it. Edwin 
chuckled inwardly, and rolled his eyes like the smooth 
villain of a fit-up melodrama. He glanced up and 
down to see that no one was looking, then he got across 
a gate and entered the turnip field. 

Within five minutes he was forcing the door of the 
fowl-house with a spade. The fowls were already set- 
tling down for the night, and they clucked rather alarm- 
ingly, but Edwin's blood was up. He chased them all 
out, forty-five of them, and made savage lunges at them 
with his feet. Then he upset all the com he could 
find, and poured water on it and jumped on it. He 



164 A GOOD ACTION" 

smashed the complicated invention suspended from the 
ceiling, whereby the fowls had to reach up and get one 
grain of com at a time. To his joy he found a pot of 
green paint, which he flung promiscuously over the 
walls and floor (and incidentally his clothes). 

Then he crept out and bolted both of the doors. 

The sleepy creatures were standing about outside, 
some feebly pecking about on the ground. He chased 
them through into the vegetable garden ; then he rubbed 
some of the dirt and paint from his clothes and returned 
to the road. 

When he arrived home he said to his wife : 

" I fell off a tram on Waterloo Bridge. Lost my 
hat." 

He was cold and wet and his teeth were chattering. 
His wife bustled him off to bed and gave him a little 
hot grog. 

Between the sheets he recovered contentment. He 
gurgled exultantly at this last and only satisfying ex- 
ploit of the day. He dreamed lazily of the blind rage 
of the Peels. . . . 

It must have been half-past ten when his wife came 
up to bring him some hot gruel. He had been asleep. 
She put the cup by the bedside and rearranged his 
pillow. 

" Feeling better ? " she asked. 

" Yes. I'm right," he murmured. 

She sat on a chair by the side of the bed and after a 
few minutes remarked: 



A GOOD ACTION 165 

" You've missed an excitement while you've been 
asleep." 

" Oh ? " 

"Yes. Afire!" 

"A fire?" 

" The Peels came home about an hour and a half ago 
and found the place on fire at the back." 

"Oh?" 

" Their cook Lizzie has been over. She said some 
straw near the wash-house must have started it. It's 
burnt out the wash-house and both the fowl-houses. 
She says Mr. Peel says he don't care very much be- 
cause he was heavily insured for the lot. But the 
funny thing is, the fowls wasn't insured and they've 
found the whole lot down the field on the rabbit- 
hutches. Somebody must have got in and let the 
whole lot out. It was a fine thing to do, or else the 
poor things would have been burnt up. What's the 
matter, 'Ned ? Is the gruel too hot ? " 



THEM OTHERS 



THEM OTHERS 



IT is always disturbing to me when things fall into 
pattern fomi, when in fact incidents of real life 
dovetail with each other in such a manner as to 
suggest the shape of a story. A story is a nice neat 
little thing with what is called a " working-up " and a 
climax, and life is a clumsy, ungraspable thing, very 
incomplete in its periods, and with a poor sense of cli- 
max. In fact, death — which is a very uncertain 
quantity — is the only definite note it strikes, and even 
death has an uncomfortable w^ay of setting other things 
in motion. If, therefore, in telling you about my 
friend Mrs. Ward, I am driven to the usual shifts of 
the story-teller, you must believe me that it is because 
this narrative concerns visions: Mrs. Ward's visions, 
my visions, and your visions. Consequently I am de- 
pendent upon my own poor powers of transcription to 
mold these visions into some sort of shape, and am 
driven into the position of a story-teller against my will. 
The first vision, then, concerns the back view of the 
Sheldrake Eoad, which, as you know, butts on to the 
railway embankment near Dalston Junction station. 
If you are of an adventurous turn of mind you shall 
accompany me, and we will creep up to the embank- 
ment together and look down into these back yards. 



170 THEM OTHERS 

(We shall be liable to a fine of 40/-, according to a 
bye-law of the Railway Company, for doing so, but the 
experience will justify us.) 

There are twenty-two of these small buff-brick houses 
huddled together in this road, and there is surely no 
more certain way of judging not only the character of 
the individual inhabitants, but of their mode of life, 
than by a survey of these somewhat pathetic yards. Is 
it not, for instance, easy to determine the timid, well- 
ordered mind of little Miss Person, the dressmaker at 
number nine, by its garden of neat mud paths, with its 
thin patch of meager grass, and the small bed of skimpy 
geraniums? Cannot one read the tragedy of those 
dreadful Alleson people at number four ? The garden 
is a wilderness of filth and broken bottles, where even 
the weeds seem chary of establishing themselves. In 
fact, if we listen carefully — and the trains are not 
making too much noise — we can hear the shrill cre- 
scendo of Mrs. Alleson's voice cursing at her husband 
in the kitchen, the half-empty gin-bottle between them. 

The methodical pushfulness and practicability of 
young Mr. and Mrs. Andrew MacFarlane is evident at 
number fourteen. They have actually grown a patch 
of potatoes, and some scarlet-runners, and there is a 
chicken run near the house. 

Those irresponsible people, the O'Neals, have grown 
a bod of hollyhocks, but for the rest the garden is untidy 
and unkempt. One could almost swear they were con- 
nected in some obscure way with the theatrical profes- 
sion. 



THEM OTHERS 171 

Mrs. Abbot's garden is a sort of playground. It has 
asphalt paths, always swanning with small and not too 
clean children, and there are five lines of washing sus- 
pended above the mud. Every day seems to be Mrs. 
Abbot's washing-day. Perhaps she " does " for others. 
Sam Abbot is certainly a lazy, insolent old rascal, and 
such always seem destined to be richly fertile. Mrs. 
Abbot is a pleasant " body," though. The Greens are 
the swells of the road. George Green is in the grocery 
line, and both his sons are earning good money, and one 
daughter has piano lessons. The narrow strip of yard 
is actually divided into two sections, a flower-garden 
and a kitchen-garden. And they are the only people 
who have flower-boxes in the front. 

JSTumber eight is a curious place. Old Mr. Bilge 
lives there. He spends most of his time in the garden, 
but nothing ever seems to come up. He stands about 
in his shirt-sleeves, and with a circular paper hat on 
his head, like a printer. They say he was formerly a 
com merchant but has lost all his money. He keeps 
the garden very neat and tidy, but nothing seems to 
grow. He stands there staring at the beds, as though 
he found their barrenness quite unaccountable. 

Number eleven is unoccupied, and number twelve is 
Mrs. Ward's. 

We now come to an important vision, and I want you 
to come down with me from the embankment and to 
view Mrs. Ward's garden from inside, and aJso Mrs. 
Ward as I saw her on that evening when I had oc- 
casion to pay my first visit. 



172 THEM OTHERS 

It had been raining, but the sun had come out. We 
wandered round the paths together, and I can see her 
old face now, lined and seamed with years of anxious 
toil and struggle; her long, bony arms, slightly with- 
ered, but moving restlessly in the direction of snails and 
slugs. 

" O dear ! O deai- ! " she was saying. " What with 
the dogs, and the cats, and the snails, and the trains, 
it's wonderful anything comes up at all ! " 

Mrs. Ward's garden has a character of its own, and 
I cannot account for it. There is nothing very special 
growing — a few pansies and a narrow border of Lon- 
don Pride, several clumps of unrecognizable things that 
haven't flowered, the grass patch in only fair order, 
and at the end of the garden an unfinished rabbit-hutch. 
But there is about Mrs. Ward's garden an atmosphere. 
There is something about it that reflects her placid eye, 
the calm, somewhat contemplative way she has of look- 
ing right through things, as though they didn't concern 
her too closely. As though, in fact, she were too oc- 
cupied with her own inner visions. 

" ]^o," she says in answer to my query, " we don't 
mind the trains at all. In fact, me and my Tom we 
often come out here and sit after supper. And Tom 
smokes his pipe. We like to hear the trains go by." 

She gazes abstractedly at the embankment. 

" I like to hear things . . . going on and that. It's 
Dalston Junction a little further on. The trains go 
from there to all parts, right out into the country they 



THEM OTHERS 173 

do . . . ever so far. . . . My Ernie went from Dais- 
ton." 

Slie adds the last in a changed tone of voice. And 
now perhaps we come to the most important vision of 
all — Mrs. Ward's vision of " my Eraie." 

I ought perhaps to mention that I had never met " my 
Ernie." I can only see him through Mrs. Ward's eyes. 
At the time when I met her, he had been away at the 
war for nearly a year. I need hardly say that " my 
Ernie " was a paragon of sons. He was brilliant, 
handsome, and incredibly clever. Everything that " my 
Ernie " said was treasured. Every opinion that he ex- 
pressed stood. If " my Ernie " liked any one, that 
person was always a welcome guest. If " my Ernie " 
disliked any one they were not to be tolerated, however 
plausible they might appear. 

I had seen Ernie's photograph, and I must confess 
that ho appeared a rather weak, extremely ordinary- 
looking young man, but then I would rather trust to 
Mrs. Ward's visions than the art of any photographer. 

Tom Ward was a mild, ineffectual-looking old man, 
with something of Mrs. Ward's placidity but with noth- 
ing of her strong individual poise. He had some job 
in a gas-works. There was also a daughter named Lily, 
a brilliant person who served in a tea-shop, and some- 
times went to theaters with young men. To both hus- 
band and daughter Mrs. Ward adopted an affection- 
ate, mothering, almost pitying attitude. But with " my 
Ernie " it was quite a different thing. I can see her 



174 THEM OTHERS 

stooping figure, and her silver-white hair gleaming in 
the sun as we come to the unfinished rabbit-hutch, and 
the curious wistful tones of her voice as she touches it 
and says: 

" When my Ernie comes home. . . ." 

The war to her was some unimaginable but discon- 
certing affair centered round Ernie. People seemed 
to have got into some desperate trouble, and Ernie was 
the only one capable of getting tliem out of it. I could 
not at that time gauge how much Mrs. Ward realized 
the dangers the boy was experiencing. She always 
spoke with conviction that he would return safely. 
JSTearly every other sentence contained some reference 
to things that were to happen " when my Ernie comes 
home." What doubts and fears she had were only 
recognizable by the subtlest shades in her voice. 

When we looked over the wall into the deserted gar- 
den next door, she said : 

" O dear ! I'm afraid they'll never let that place. 
It's been empty since the Stellings went away. Oh, 
years ago, before this old war." 

II 

It was on the occasion of my second visit that Mrs. 
Ward told me more about the Stellings. It appeared 
that they were a German family, of all things ! There 
was a Mr, Stelling, and a Mrs. Frow Stelling, and two 
boys. 

Mr. Stelling was a watchmaker, and he came from a 



THEM OTHERS 175 

place called Bremen. It was a very sad story Mrs. 
Ward told me. They had only been over here for ten 
months when Mr. Stclling died, and Mrs. Frow Stell- 
ing and the boys went back to Germany. 

During the time of the Stellings' sojourn in the Shel- 
drake Road it appeared that the Wards had seen quite 
a good deal of them, and though it would be an ex- 
aggeration to say that they ever became great friends, 
they certainly got through, that period without any un- 
pleasantness, and even developed a certain degree of 
intimacv. 

" Allowing for their being foreigners," Mrs. Ward 
explained, " they were quite pleasant people." 

On one or two occasions they invited each other to 
supper, and I wish my visions were sufficiently clear 
to envisage those two families indulging this social 
habit. 

According to Mrs. Ward, Mr. Stelling was a kind 
little man with a round fat face. He spoke English 
fluently, but ^Irs. Ward objected to his table man- 
ners. 

" Wben my Tom eats," she said, " you don't hear a 
sound — I look after that ! — But that Mr. Stelling 
. . . O dear!" 

The trouble with Mrs. Stelling was that she could 
only speak a few words of English, but Mrs. Ward 
said " she was a pleasant enough little body," and she 
established herself quite definitely in Mrs. Ward's af- 
fections for the reason that she was so obviously and 
so passionately devoted to her two sons. 



176 THEM OTHEES 

" Ob, my word, though, they do have funny ways — 
these foreigners," she continued. " The things they 
used to eat! most peculiar! I've knovrai them eat 
stewed prunes with hot meat ! " 

Mrs. Ward repeated, " Stewed pnmes with hot 
meat ! " several times, and shook her head, as though 
this exotic mixture was a thing to be sternly discour- 
aged. But she acknowledged that Mrs. Frow Stelling 
was in some ways a very good cook, in fact, her cakes 
were really wonderful, " the sort of thing you can't 
even buy in a shop." 

About the boys there seemed to be a little divergence 
of opinion. They were both also fat-faced, and their 
heads were " almost shaved like convicts." The elder 
one wore spectacles and was rather noisy, but: 

" My Ernie liked the younger one. Oh, yes, my 
Ernie said that young Hans was quite a nice boy. It 
was funny the way they spoke, funny and difficult to 
understand." 

It was very patent that between the elder boy and 
Ernie, who were of about the same age, there was an 
element of rivalry which was perhaps more accentuated 
in the attitude of the mothers than in the boys them- 
selves. Mrs. Ward could find little virtue in this elder 
boy. Most of her criticism of the family w^as leveled 
against him. The rest she found only a little peculiar. 
She said she had never heard such a funny Christian 
name as Frow. Florrie she had heard of, and even 
Flora, but not Frow. I suggested that perhaps Frow 
might be some sort of title, but she shook her head and 



THEM OTHERS 177 

said tliat that was what she was always known as in the 
Sheldrake Road, " Mrs. Frow Stelling." 

In spite of Mrs. Ward's lack of opportunity for 
greater intimacy on account of the language problem, 
her own fine imaginative qualities helped her a great 
deal. And in one particular she seemed curiously 
vivid. She gathered an account from one of them — 
I'm not sure whether it was Mr. or Mrs. Frow Stelling 
or one of the boys — of a place they described near 
their home in Bremen. There was a narrow street of 
high buildings by a canal, and a little bridge that led 
over into a gentleman's park. At a point where the 
canal turned sharply eastwards there was a clump of 
linden-trees, where one could go in the summer-time, 
and under their shade one might sit and drink light 
beer, and listen to a band that played in the early part 
of the evening. 

Mrs. Ward was curiously clear about that. She said 
she often thought about Mr. Stelling sitting there after 
his day's work. It must have been very pleasant for 
him, and he seemed to miss this luxury in Dalston 
more than anything. Once Ernie, in a friendly mood, 
had taken him into the four-ale bar of " The Unicom " 
at the comer of the Sheldrake Road, but Mr. Stelling 
did not seem happy. Ernie acknowledged afterwards 
that it had been an unfortunate evening. The bar had 
been rather crowded, and there was a man and two 
women who had all been drinking too much. In any 
case, Mr. Stelling had been obviously restless there, and 
he had said afterwards : 



178 THEM OTHEES 

" It is not that one wishes to drink only . . ." 
, And he had shaken his fat little head, and had never 
been known to visit " The Unicorn " again. 

Mr. Stelling died quite suddenly of some heart 
trouble, and Mrs. Ward could not get it out of her 
head that his last illness was brought about by his dis- 
appointment and grief in not being able to go and sit 
quietly under the linden-trees after his day's work and 
listen to a band. 

" You know, my dear," she said, " when you get ac- 
customed to a thing, it's had for you to leave it off." 

When poor Mr. Stelling died, Mrs. Frow Stelling 
was heart-broken, and I have reason to believe that Mrs. 
Ward went in and wept with her, and in their dumb 
way they forged the chains of some desperate under- 
standing. When Mrs. Erow Stelling went back to Ger- 
many they promised to write to each other. But they 
never did, and for a very good reason. As Mrs. Ward 
said, she was " no scholard,"' and as for Mrs. Frow 
Stelling, her English was such a doubtful quantity, she 
probably never got beyond addressing the envelope. 

" That was three years ago," said Mrs. Ward. 
" Them boys must be eighteen and nineteen now." 



Ill 

If I have intruded too greatly into the intimacy of 
Mrs. Ward's life, one of my excuses must be — not that 
I am " a scholard " but that I am in any case able to 
read a simple English letter. I was in fact on sev- 



THEM OTHERS 179 

eral occasions " requisitioned." When Lily was not at 
home, sonic one had to read Ernie's letters out loud. 
The arrival of Ernie's letters was always an inspiring 
experience. I should perhaps be in the garden with 
Mrs. Ward, when Tom would come hurrying out to 
the back, and call out: 

" Mother ! a letter from Ernie ! " 

And then there would be such excitement and com- 
motion. The first thing was always the hunt for Mrs. 
Ward's spectacles. They were never where she had 
put them. Tom would keep on turning the letter over 
in his hands, and examining the postmark, and he would 
reiterate : 

" Well, what did you do with them, mother ? " 

At length they would be found in some unlikely 
place, and she would take the letter tremblingly to the 
light. I never knew quite how much Mrs. Ward could 
read. She could certainly read a certain amount. I 
saw her old eyes sparkling and her tongue moving 
jerkily between her parted lips, as though she were 
formulating the words she read, and she would keep 
on repeating: 

"T'ch! T'ch! O dear, O dear, tlie things he 
says ! " 

And Tom impatiently by the door would say: 

" Well, what does he say ? " 

She never attempted to read the letter out loud, but 
at last she would wipe her spectacles and say: 

" Oh, you read it, sir. The tilings he says ! " 

They were indeed very good letters of Ernie's, writ- 



180 THEM OTHERS 

ten apparently in the highest spirits. There was never 
a gnimble, not a word. One might gather that he was 
away with a lot of young bloods on some sporting ex- 
pedition, in which football, rags, sing-songs, and strange 
feeds played a conspicuous part. I read a good many 
of Ernie's letters, and I do not remember that he ever 
made a single reference to the horrors of war, or said 
anything about his own personal discomforts. The boy 
must have had something of his mother in him in spite 
of the photograph. 

And between the kitchen and the yard Mrs. "Ward 
would spend her day placidly content, for Ernie never 
failed to write. There was sometimes a lapse of a few 
days, but the letter seldom failed to come every fort- 
night. 

It would be difficult to know what Mrs. Ward's ac- 
tual conception of the war was. She never read the 
newspapers, for the reason, as she explained, that 
" there was nothing in them these days except about this 
old war." She occasionally dived into Reynold's news- 
paper on Sundays to see if there were any interesting 
law cases or any news of a romantic character. There 
was nothing romantic in the war news. It was all 
preposterous. She did indeed read the papers for the 
first few weeks, but this was for the reason that she 
had some vague idea that they might contain some ac- 
count of Ernie's doings. But as they did not, she dis- 
missed them with contempt. 

But I found her one night in a peculiarly preoc- 
cupied mood. She was out in the garden, and she kept 



THEM OTHERS 181 

staring abstractedly over the fence into the unoccu- 
pied ground next door. It appeared that it had dawned 
upon her that the war was to do with " these Germans," 
that in fact we were fighting the Germans, and then she 
thought of the Stellings. Those boys would now be 
about eighteen and nineteen. They would be fighting 
too. They would be fighting against Ernie. This 
seemed very peculiar. 

" Of course," she said, " I never took to that elder 
boy — a greedy rough sort of boy he was. But I'm 
sure my Ernie wouldn't hurt young Hans." 

She meditated for a moment as though she were con- 
templating what particular action Ernie would take in 
the matter. She knew he didn't like the elder boy but 
she doubted whether he would want to do anything very 
violent to him. 

" They went out to a music-hall one night together," 
she explained, as though a friendship cemented in this 
luxurious fashion could hardly bo broken by an unrea- 
sonable display of passion. 



IV 

It was a few weeks later that the terror suddenly 
crept into Mrs. Ward's life. Ernie's letters ceased 
abniptly. The fortnight passed, then three weeks, four 
weeks, five weeks, and not a word. I don't think that 
Mrs. Ward's character at any time stood out so vividly 
as during those weeks of stress.. It is true she appeared 
a little feebler, and she trembled in her movements, 



182 THEM OTHEES 

whilst her eyes seemed abstracted as though all the 
power in them were concentrated in her ears, alert for 
the bell or the knock. She started visibly at odd mo- 
ments, and her imagination was always carrying her 
tempestuously to the front door only to answer — a 
milkman or a casual hawker. But she never expressed 
her fear in words. When Tom came home — he 
seemed to have aged rapidly — he would come bustling 
out into the garden, and cry tremblingly : 

" There ain't been no letter to-day, mother ? " 

And she would say quite placidly : 

" ]^o, not to-day, Tom. It'll come to-morrow, I ex- 
pect." 

And she would rally him and talk of little things, 
and get busy with his supper. And in the garden I 
would try and talk to her about her clump of pansies, 
and the latest yarn about the neighbors, and I tried 
to get between her and the rabbit-hutch with its dumb 
appeal of incompletion. And I would notice her star- 
ing curiously over into the empty garden next door, as 
though she were being assailed by some disturbing ap- 
prehensions. Ernie would not hurt that eldest boy 
. . . but suppose ... if things were reversed . . . 
there was something inexplicable and terrible lurking 
in this passive silence. 

During this period the old man was suddenly taken 
very ill. He came homo one night with a high tem- 
perature and developed pneumonia. He was laid up 
for many weeks, and she kept back the telegram that 
came while he was almost unconscious, and she tended 



THEM OTHEES 183 

him niglit and day, nursing her own anguish with a 
calm face. 

For the telegram told her that her Ernie was " miss- 
ing, believed wounded." 

I do not know at what period she told the father this 
news, but it was certainly not till he was convalescent. 
And the old man seemed to sink into a kind of apathy. 
He sat feebly in front of the kitchen fire, coughing and 
making no effort to control his grief. 

Outside the great trains went rushing by, night and 
day. Things were " going on," but they were all mean- 
ingless, cruel. 

We made enquiries at the War Office, but they could 
not amplify the laconic telegTam. 

And then the winter came on, and the gardens were 
bleak in the Sheldrake Road. And Lily ran away and 
married a young tobacconist, who was earning twenty- 
five shillings a week. And old Tom was dismissed 
from the gas-works. His work was not proving satis- 
factory. And he sat about at home and moped. And 
in the meantime the price of foodstuffs was going up, 
and coals were a luxury. And so in the early morning 
Mrs. Ward would go off and work for Mrs. Abbot at 
the wash-tub, and she would earn eight or twelve shill- 
ings a week. 

It is difficult to know how they managed during those 
days, but one could see that Mrs. Ward was buoyed up 
by some poignant hope. She would not give way. 
Eventually old Tom did get some work to do at a sta- 
tioner's. The work was comparatively light, and the 



184 THEM OTHEES 

pay equally so, so Mrs. Wai'd still continued to work 
for Mrs. Abbot. 

My next vision of Mrs. Ward concerns a certain win- 
ter evening. I could not see inside the kitchen, but the 
old man could be heard complaining. His querulous 
voice was rambling on, and Mrs. Ward was standing 
by the door leading into the garden. She had returned 
from her day's work and was scraping a pan out into a 
bin near the door. A train shrieked by, and the wind 
was blowing a fine rain against the house. Suddenly 
she stood up and looked up at the sky ; then she pushed 
back her hair from her brow, and frowned at the dark 
house next door. Then she turned and said : 

" Oh, I don't know, Tom, if we've got to do it, we 
must do it. If them others can stand it, we can stand 
it. Whatever them others can do, we can do." 

And then my visions jump rather wildly. And the 
war becomes to me epitomized in two women. One in 
this dim doorway in our obscure suburb of Dalston, 
scraping out a pan, and the other perhaps in some dark 
high house near a canal on the outskirts of Bremen. 
Them others! These two women silently enduring. 
And the trains rushing by, and all the dark, mysterious 
forces of the night operating on them equivocally. 

Poor Mrs. Erow Stelling! Perhaps those boys of 
hers are " missing, believed killed." Perhaps they are 
killed for certain.! She is as much outside " the things 
going on " as Mrs. Ward. Perhaps she is equally as 
patient, as brave. 



THEM OTHERS 185 

And Mrs. Ward enters the kitchen, and her eyes are 
blazing with a strange light as she says: 

" We'll hear to-morrow, Tom. And if we don't hear 
to-morrow, we'll hear the next day. And if we don't 
hear the next day, we'll hear the day after. And if we 
don't ... if we don't never hear . . . again ... if 
them others can stand it, we can stand it, I say." 

And then her voice breaks, and she cries a little, for 
endurance has its limitations, and — the work is hard 
at Mrs. Abbot's. 

And the months go by, and she stoops a little more as 
she walks, and — some one has thrown a cloth over the 
rabbit-hutch with its unfinished roof. And Mrs. Ward 
is curiously retrospective. It is useless to tell her of 
the things of the active world. She listens politely but 
she does not hear. She is full of reminiscences of 
Ernie's and Lily's childhood. She recounts again and 
again the story of how Ernie when he was a little boy 
ordered five tons of coal from a coal merchant to be sent 
to a girls' school in Dalston High Road. She describes 
the coal carts arriving in the morning, and the conster- 
nation of the head-mistress. 

" O dear, O dear," she says ; " the things he did ! " 

She does not talk much of the Stellings, but one day 
she says meditatively : 

" Mrs. Frow Stelling thought a lot of that boy Hans. 
So she did of the other, as far as that goes. It's only 
natural like, I suppose." 



186 THEM OTHEES 



As time went on Tom Ward lost all hope. He said 
lie was convinced that the boy was killed. Having ar- 
rived at this conclusion he seemed to become more com- 
posed. He gradually began to accustom himself to the 
new point of view. But with Mrs. Ward the exact op- 
posite was the case. 

She was convinced that the boy was alive, but she 
suffered terribly. 

There came a time — it was in early April — when 
one felt that the strain could not last. She seemed to 
lose all interest in the passing world and lived entirely 
within herself. Even the arrival of Lily's baby did 
not rouse her. She looked at the child queerly, as 
though she doubted whether any useful or happy pur- 
pose was served by its appearance. 

It was a boy. 

In spite of her averred optimism she lost her tremu- 
lous sense of apprehension when the bell went or the 
front door was tapped. She let the milkman — and 
even the postmaa — wait. 

When she spoke it was invariably of things that hap- 
pened years ago. 

Sometimes she talked about the Stellings, and on 
one Sunday she made a strange pilgrimage out to 
Einchley and visited Mr. Stelling's grave. I don't 
know what she did there, but she returned looking very 
exhausted and unwell. As a matter of fact, she was 



THEM OTHERS 187 

unwell for some days after this visit, and she suffered 
violent twinges of rheumatism in her legs. 

I now come to my most unforgetable vision of Mrs. 
Ward. 

It was a day at the end of April, and warm for the 
time of year. I was standing in the garden with her 
and it was nearly dark. A goods train had been shunt- 
ing, and making a gi-eat deal of noise in front of the 
house, and at last had disappeared. I had not been 
able to help noticing that Mrs. Ward's garden was 
curiously neglected for her for the time of year. The 
grass was growing on the paths, and the snails had left 
their silver trail over all the fences. 

I was telling her a rumor I had heard about the 
railway porter and his wife at number twenty-three, 
and she seemed fairly interested, for she had known 
John Hemsley, the porter, fifteen years ago when 
Ernie was a baby. There were two old broken Wind- 
sor chairs out in the garden, and on one was a zinc 
basin in which were some potatoes. She was peeling 
them, as Lily and her husband were coming to supper. 
By the kitchen door was a small sink. When she had 
finished the potatoes, she stood up and began to pour 
the water down the sink, taking care not to let the skins 
go too. I was noticing her old bent back, and her long 
bony hands gripping the sides of the basin, when sud- 
denly a figure came limping round the bend of the 
house from the side passage, and two arms were thrown 
round her waist, and a voice said : 



188 THEM OTHEES 

" Mind them skins don't go down the sink, mother. 
They'll stop it up ! " 

VI 

As I explained to Ernie afterwards, it was an ex- 
tremely foolish thing to do. If his mother had had 
anything wrong with her heart, it might have been very 
serious. There have been many cases of people dying 
from the shock of such an experience. 

As it was, she merely dropped the basin and stood 
there trembling like a leaf, and Ernie laughed loud and 
uproariously. It must have been three or four min- 
utes before she could regain her speech, and then all 
she could manage to say was: 

"Ernie! ... My Ernie!" 

And the boy laughed, and ragged his mother, and 
pulled her into the house, and Tom appeared and stared 
at his son, and said feebly: 

"Well, I never!" 

I don't know how it was that I found myself intrud- 
ing upon the sanctity of the inner life of the Ward 
family that evening. I had never had a meal there 
before, but I felt that I was holding a sort of watching 
brief over the soul and body of Mrs. Ward. I had a 
little medical training in my early youth, and this may 
have been one of the reasons which prompted me to 
stay. 

When Lily and her husband appeared we sat down 
to a meal of mashed potatoes and onions stewed in milk, 
with bread and cheese, and very excellent it was. 



THEM OTHERS 189 

Lily and her liusband took the whole thing in a bois- 
terous, hjoh comedy manner that fitted in with the 
mood of Eniie. Old Tom sat there staring at his son, 
and repeating at intervals: 

" Well, I never ! " 

And Mrs. Ward hovered round the boy's plate. Her 
eyes divided their time between his plate and his face, 
and she hardly spoke all the evening. 

Ernie's story was remarkable enough. He told it 
disconnectedly and rather incoherently. There were 
moments when he rambled in a rather peculiar way, 
and sometimes he stammered, and seemed unable to 
frame a sentence. Lily's husband went out to fetch 
some beer to celebrate the joyful occasion, and Ernie 
drank his in little sips, and spluttered. The boy must 
have suffered considerably, and he had a wound in the 
abdomen, and another in the right forearm which for 
a time had paralyzed him. 

As far as I could gather, his story was this: 

He and a platoon of men had been ambushed and 
had had to surrender. When being sent back to a base, 
three of them tried to escape from the train, which had 
been held up at night. He did not know what had 
happened to the other two men, but it was on this oc- 
casion that he received his abdominal wound at th** 
hands of a guard. 

He had then been sent to some infirmary where he 
was fairly well treated, but as soon as his wound had 
healed a little, he had been suddenly sent to some for- 
tress prison, presumably as a punishment. He hadn't 



190 THEM OTHEES 

the faintest idea how long he had been confined there. 
He said it seemed like fifteen years. It was probably 
nine months. He had solitary confinement in a cell, 
which was like a small lavatory. He had fifteen min- 
utes' exercise every day in a yard Avith some other pris- 
oners, who were Eussians he thought. He spoke to 
no one. He used to sing and recite in his cell, and 
there were times when he was quite convinced that he 
was " off his chump." He said he had lost " all sense 
of everything " when he was suddenly transferred to 
another prison. Here the conditions were somewhat 
better and he was made to work. He said he wrote six 
or seven letters home from there, but received no reply. 
The letters certainly never reached Dalston. The 
food was execrable, but a big improvement on the dun- 
geon. He was only there a few weeks when he and 
some thirty other prisoners were sent suddenly to work 
on the land at a kind of settlement. He said that the 
life there would have been tolerable if it hadn't been 
for the fact that the Commandant was an absolute brute. 
The food was worse than in the prison, and they were 
punished severely for the most trivial offenses. 

It was here, however, that he met a sailor named 
Martin, a Eoyal ISTaval reservist, an elderly thickset 
man with a black beard and only one eye. Ernie said 
that this Martin " was an artist. He wangled every- 
thing. He had a genius for getting what he wanted. 
He would get a beef-steak out of stone." In fact, it 
was obvious that the whole of Ernie's nan*ative was 
colored by his vision of Martin. He said he'd never 



TIIEM OTHERS 191 

met such a cliap in his life. He admired him enor- 
mously, and he was also a little afraid of him. 

By some miraculous means peculiar to sailors, Mar- 
tin acquired a compass. Ernie hardly knew what a 
compass was, but tlie sailor explained to him that it 
was all that was necessary to take you straight to Eng- 
land. Ernie said he " had had enough escaping. It 
didn't agree with his health," but so strong was his 
faith and belief in Martin that he ultimately agreed to 
try with him. 

He said Martin's method of escape was the coolest 
thing he'd ever seen. He plamied it all beforehand. 
It was the fag-end of the day, and the whistle had gone 
and the prisoners were trooping back across a potato- 
field. Martin and Ernie were very slow. They lin- 
gered apparently to discuss some matter connected with 
the soil. There were two sentries in sight, one near 
them and the other perhaps a hundred yards away. 
The potato field was on a slope and at the bottom of the 
field were two lines of barbed wire entanglements. 
The other prisoners passed out of sight, and the sen- 
try near them called out something, probably telling 
them to hurry up. They started to go up the field 
when suddenly Mai-tin staggered and clutched his 
throat. Then he fell over baclcwards and commenced 
to have an epileptic fit. Ernie said it was the real- 
est thing he'd ever seen. The sentry ran up, at the 
same time whistling to his comrade. Ernie released 
Martin's collar-band and tried to help him. Both the 
sentries approached, and Ernie stood back. He saw 



192 THEM OTHERS 

them bending over the prostrate man, when suddenly a 
most extraordinary thing happened. Both their heads 
were brought together with fearful violence. One fell 
completely senseless, but the other staggered forward 
and groped for his rifle. 

When Ernie told this part of the story he kept dab- 
bing his forehead with his handkerchief. 

" I never seen such a man as Martin I don't think," 
he said. " Lord ! He had a fist like a leg of mutton. 
He laid 'em out neatly on the grass, took off their coats 
and most of their other clothes, and flung 'em over the 
barbed wire and then swarmed over like a cat. I had 
more difiiculty, but he got me across too, somehow. 
Then we carted the clothes away to the next line. 

" We got up into a wood that night, and Martin 
draws out his compass and he says : ' We've got a hun- 
dred and seven miles to do in night shifts, cully. And 
if we make a slip we're shot as safe as knife.' It 
sounded the maddest scheme in the world, but I some- 
how felt that Martin would get through it. The only 
thing that saved me was that — that I didn't have to 
think. I simply left everything to him. If I'd started 
thinking I could have gone mad. I had it fixed in my 
mind, ' either he does it or he doesn't do it. I can't 
help it.' I reely don't remember much about that 
journey. It was all a dream like. We did all our 
travelin' at night by compass, and hid by day. Neither 
of us had a word of German. But Gawd's truth ! that 
man Martin was a marvel ! He turned our trousers in- 
side out, and made 'em look like ordinary laborers' 



THEM OTHERS 193 

trousers. He disappeared the first niglit and came 
back with some other old clothes. We lived mostly on 
raw potatoes we dug out of the ground with our hands, 
but not always. One night he came back with a fowl 
which he cooked in a hole in the earth, making a fire 
with a flint and some dry stuff he pinched from a farm. 
I believed Martin could have stole an egg from under 
a hen without her noticing it. He was the coolest 
card there ever was. Of course there was a lot of 
trouble one way and another. It wasn't always easy 
to find wooded country or protection of any sort. We 
often ran into people and they stared at us, and we 
shifted our course. But I think we were only ad- 
dressed three or four times by men, and then Martin's 
methods were the simplest in the world. He just 
looked sort of blank for a moment, and then knocked 
them clean out, and bolted. Of course they were after 
us all the time, and it was this constant tacking and 
shifting ground that took so long. Fancy! he never 
had a map, you know, nothing but the compass. We 
didn't know what sort of country we were coming to, 
nothing. We just crept through the night like cats. 

I believe Martin could see in the dark He killed 

a dog one night with his hands. ... It was neces- 
sary." 

VII 

It was impossible to discover from Emie how long 
this amazing journey lasted — the best part of two 
months I believe. He was himself a little uncertain 



194: THEM OTHEES 

with regard to many incidents, whether thej were true 
or whether thej were hallucinations. He suffered 
greatly from his wound and had periods of feverish- 
ness. But one morning, he said, Martin began 
" prancing." He seemed to develop some curious sense 
that they were near the Dutch frontier. And then, 
according to Ernie, " a cat wasn't in it with Martin." 

He was very mysterious about the actual crossing. 
I gathered that there had been some " clumsy " work 
with sentries. It was at that time that Ernie got a 
bullet through his arm. When he got to Holland he 
was very ill. It was not that the wound was a very 
serious one, but, as he explained: 

" Me blood was in a bad state. I was nearly down 
and out." 

He was very kindly treated by some Dutch Sisters 
in a convent hospital. But he was delirious for a long 
time, and when he became more normal they wanted 
to communicate with his people in England, but this 
didn't appeal to the dramatic sense of Ernie. 

" I thought I'd spring a surprise packet on you,'' 
he said, grinning. 

We asked about Martin, but Ernie said he never saw 
him again. He went away while Ernie was delirious, 
and they said he had gone to Eotterdam to take ship 
somewhere. He thought Holland was a dull place. 

During the relation of this narrative my attention 
was divided between watching the face of Ernie and the 
face of Ernie's mother. 

I am quite convinced that she did not listen to the 



THEM OTHERS 195 

story at all. She never took her eyes from his face, 
and although her tongue was following the flow of his 
remarks, her mind was occupied with the vision of 
Ernie when he was a little boy, and when he ordered 
five tons of coal to be sent to the girls' school. 

When he had finished she said : 

"Did you meet either of them young Stellings?" 

And Ernie laughed rather uproariously and said no, 
he didn't have the pleasure of renewing their acquaint- 
ance. 

On his way home, it appeared, he had reported him- 
self at headquarters, and his discharge was inevitable. 

" So now you'll be able to finish the rabbit-hutch," 
said Lily's husband, and we all laughed again, with 
the exception of Mrs. Ward. 

I found her later standing alone in the garden. It 
was a warm Spring night. There was no moon, but the 
sky appeared restless with its burden of trembling stars. 
She had an old shawl drawn round her shoulders, and 
she stood there very silently, with her arms crossed. 

" Well, this is splendid news, Mrs. Ward," I said. 

She started a little, and coughed, and pulled the 
shawl closer round her. 

She said, " Yes, sir," very faintly. 

I don't think she was very conscious of me. She 
still appeared immersed in the contemplation of her 
inner visions. Her eyes settled upon the empty house 
next door, and I thought I detected the trail of a tear 
glistening on her checks. I lighted my pipe. We 



196 THEM OTHEES 

could hear Ernie, and Lily, and Lily's husband still 
laughing and talking inside. 

" She used to make a very good puddin','' Mrs. Ward 
said suddenly, at random. " Dried fruit inside, and 
that. My Ernie liked it very much . . ." 

Somewhere away in the distance — probably out- 
side " The Unicorn " — some one was playing a comet. 
A train crashed by and disappeared, leaving a trail of 
foul smoke which obscured the sky. The smoke cleared 
slowly away. I struck another match to light my pipe. 

It was quite true. On either side of her cheek a 
tear had trickled. She was trembling a little, worn 
out by the emotions of the evening. 

There was a moment of silence, unusual for Dalston. 

" It's all very . . . perplexin' and that," she said 
quietly. 

And then I knew for certain that in that great hour 
of her happiness her mind was assailed by strange and 
tremulous doubts. She was thinking of " them others " 
a little wistfully. She was doubting whether one could 
rejoice — when the thing became clear and actual to 
one — without sending out one's thoughts into the dark 
garden to " them others " who were suifering too. And 
she had come out into this little meager yard at Dalston 
and had gazed through the mist and smoke upwards to 
the stars, because she wanted peace intensely, and so she 
sought it within herself, because she knew that real 
peace is a thing which concerns the heart alone. 

And so I left her standing there, and I went my way, 
for I knew that she was wiser than I. 



THE BENT TREE 



THE BENT TREE 

THE call was irresistible. I had tramped for 
nearly two hours along the white road, when 
suddenly a long stretch of open heath with 
sparsely-scattered trees and high gorse bushes invited 
me to break my journey and to seek the shade of a 
wood that fringed it on the western side. The ground 
sloped upwards at a steep gradient and I was soon 
among the cool shadows of the larch trees. After 
climbing for nearly half-an-hour I found myself on a 
kind of plateau, looking down upon one of the most 
beautiful sights in the world, the Weald of Sussex 
trembling in a gray heat mist framed through a thin 
belt of trees. I pushed forward, determining to rest 
in this most attractive spot. iSTearing the fringe of this 
little clump, I observed a bent tree in a clearing. As 
I approached it it occurred to me that the subject be- 
fore me was curiously like Corot's famous masterpiece. 
It was indeed a wonderful and romantic spot. Beneath 
me a river rambled through the meadows and became 
lost in the gray-line distances. There was no sign of 
civilization except sleepy cattle and the well-kept fields, 
and occasionally a village nestling in the hollow of the 
downs. The only sound was the movement of leaves, 
the drone of bees and the lowing of cattle in the distant 

meadows. 

199 



200 THE BE:N'T TREE 

I sat down on the bent tree, and as I looked around 
it occurred to me that the spot I had chosen was like a 
little arbor. It might have been the home of some 
God of ancient Britain, who could have lived here 
undisturbed through all the generations. I was won- 
dering whether any one else had ever penetrated to this 
glorious retreat from the world when my eye caught a 
small square of white paper pinned on the trunk of the 
bent tree, I examined it, and lo ! on it was wi'itten in 
ink : " Gone to lunch. Back in 20 Minutes." 

]^ow if there is one thing that makes me wretchedly 
unhappy it is the action of people who find pleasure in 
disfiguring nature, in carving their initials on tree- 
trunks, in scattering paper and orange-peel about the 
country-side ; but somehow, when I caught sight of this 
absurd city ofiice formula pinned to a tree in this most 
inaccessible and romantic spot, I must confess that 
" my lungs did crow like Chanticleer." I felt that here 
indeed was the work of a vast and subtle humorist. 
The formula was so familiar. How often had I waited 
hours in murky passages, buoyed up by this engaging 
promise ! It seemed so redolent of drab staircases, and 
files and roll-top desks, that its very mention out here 
struck a fantastic note. That any one should suggest 
that he carried on a business here, that his time was 
precious, that after gulping down a cup of coffee, he 
would rush back, cope with increasing press of affairs, 
seemed to me wonderfully and amazingly funny. I 
must acknowledge that I made myself rather ridiculous. 
I laughed till the tears streamed down my face, and my 



THE BENT TREE 201 

only desire was for a companion with whom to share 
the manna of this gigantic jest. I looked at the card 
again. It was comparatively clean, so I presumed that 
the joke had been perpetrated quite recently. 

And then I began to wonder whether the jester would 
return, whether, after all, the slip had any significance. 
Was it the message of a poacher to a friend ? Or was 
this the secret meeting place of some gods of High 
Finance? I determined in any case to wait the al- 
lotted span, and in the meantime I stretched myself on 
the stem of the bent tree, and, lighting a cigarette, pre- 
pared to enjoy the tranquillity of the scene. 

It was barely ten minutes before my siesta was dis- 
turbed by a man coming stealthily up the slope. He 
was a medium-sized, sallow-faced fellow with small tired 
eyes set in dark hollows. He was wearing a tail-coat 
and a bowler hat. He shuffled quickly through the 
wood, pushing the branches of the trees away from him. 
His eyes fixed me furtively, and as he entered the little 
arbor, he took off his hat and fidgeted with it, as though 
looking for a customary hook on which to hang it. 

" I hope I haven't kept you waiting ? " was his greet- 
ing. 

" Not at all," I found myself answering, for lack of 
a more suitable reply. 

" Did Binders send you ? " he asked tentatively. 

" No," I replied, pulling myself together. " I just 
happened to come here." 

A look of disappointment passed over his face. 
" Oh ! " he said, walking up and down. " I some- 



202 THE BENT TREE 

times do a bit with Binders and his friends, you know " 
— he waved his arms va^ely — " you know, from Cor- 
lesham." 

Corlesham I knew to be a village rather more than 
two miles away, a sleepy hamlet of less than fifty souls. 

" Oh, I see," I replied, more with the idea of not dis- 
couraging him than because any particular light had 
come to me. 

He looked at me searchingly for some moments, and 
then, going over to a thick gorse-bush, he knelt down 
and grouped underneath and presently produced a 
thick pile of papers and circulars. 

" I wonder whether you would like to do anything in 
these? These West Australians are good. They're 
right down to 65. If you can hold on, a sure thing. 
If you would like a couple of thousand now . . ." he 
was nervously biting his nails ; then he said, " Could 
you spare me a cigarette ? " 

I produced my case and handed him one. 

" Thanks very much," he said. " They don't like me 
to smoke at home," and he waved his hand towards the 
north. I followed the direction, and just caught sight 
of the top of a gable of a large red-brick building 
through the trees. 

So this was the solution ! 

" This is a glorious place," I said. 

This seemed a very harmless platitude and one not 
likely to drive a being to despair. But it had a strange 
effect on my individual, for he sat down on a broken 
branch and burst into a paroxysm of invective. 



THE BENT TREE 203 



■31 



" Oh, Gawd ! " he said. " I hate it, hate the sight of 
it ! Day after day — all the same ! All these blinkin' 
trees and fields — all the same, nothing happenin' 



ever." 



I found it very difficult to meet this outburst. I 
could think of nothing to say, so I kept silent. After 
a time he got up, puffing feverishly at the cigarette, and 
walked round the little arbor. Every now and then he 
would stop and make a gesture towards the shiiibs. I 
believe he was visualizing files and folios, ledgers, and 
typewriters. He made a movement of opening and 
shutting drawers. 

" You've been a bit run down, haven't you ? " I 
said at last, with a feeble attempt to bridge the gulf. 

He looked at me uncertainly, and wiped the perspi- 
ration from his brow. 

" I was unlucky," he said sullenly. " I worked like 
a nigger for thirty years, but so do the others — lots of 
them — and they're all right. Just sheer bad luck, if 
you know what I mean. I can do it now when they let 
me. That's why I come here. Binders helps me a bit. 
He sends me people. And, do you know ? " he whis- 
pered to me confidentially, " I've got the postman on 
my side. He delivers me letters here at twopence a 
time. Look ! here is my mail-box ! " He stooped dovsai 
and lifted a large stone and produced a further pile of 
correspondence and circulars. " Would you like to buy 
some of these Trinidads? I could work it for you." 

He looked at me anxiously, and I made some elabor- 
ate excuse for not seizing such a splendid opportunity. 



204 THE BENT TEEE 

He sighed, and placed the papers back under the stone. 

" Have you ever dealt in big things ? " he asked. 

" I'm afraid not — in your sense," I answered, nur- 
turing an instinctive sense of outraged superiority 
against this person who I felt despised me. 

" You know what I mean by big things," he said 
fiercely. " Millions and millions, and the lives and 
works of millions of people ! Do you know why I 
come down here to this rotten little clearing ? Because 
it sometimes reminds me of my office off Throgmorton 
Street. Look ! It was just this size. I had my desk 
over there. Horswall, my secretary, had his desk here. 
Here was the fireplace. The press just here by the 
window. Here the shelves with all the files. Can you 
imagine what it's like to have been there all those years, 
to have worked up what I did — all out of nothing, 
mark you ! — to have got the whole rubber market in 
the hollow of my hand ! — and then, oh, God ! to be 
condemned to — this ! " and he made a gesture of fierce 
contempt towards the Weald of Sussex. 

" For nearly two years now," he continued, " I've 
been living in this hole." 

" Nature has a way," I said, in my most sententious 
manner, " of coming back on us." 

"Nayoher! Naycher!" he almost screamed. 
" Don't talk to me about Naycher ! What sort of 
friend is Naycher to me or you? Naycher gives you 
inclinations, and then breaks you for following them ! 
Two men fall into a pond — what does Naycher care 
that one man was trying to drown his enemy while 



THE BENT TREE 205 

the other was trying to save a dog? They both stand 
their cliance of deatli. Najcher leads you up blind 
alleys and into marshes and lets you rot. Besides, isn't 
man Naycher? Isn't it Naycher for me to work and 
make money, as it is for these blighting birds to sing? 
Aren't roll-top desks as much Naycher as — these 
blasted trees ? " 

He blinked savagely at the surrounding scene. The 
smoke from a distant hamlet drifted sleepily heaven- 
wards, like incense to the gods of the Downs. 

" My father was a turner in Walham Green, and he 
apprenticed me to the joinery, but I had my ambitions 
even in those times." He nodded knowingly, and 
mopped his brow. " At eighteen I was a clerk in a 
wholesale house in St. Paul's Churchyard. Eor three 
years I worked there underground, by artificial light. 
Then I got made sub-manager of a wharf at the South 
end of Lower Thames Street. I was there for five 
years, and saved nearly three hundred pounds out of a 
salary of £120 a year. Then I met Jettison, and we 
started that oifice together, Jettison & Gateshead, Com- 
mission Agents. Work and struggle, work and stnig- 
gle, year after year. But it was not till I got on to 
rubber that I began to make things move. That was 
eight years after. Do you remember the boom ? I got 
in with Gayo, who had lived out in the Malay Straits — 
Knew everything — we got the whole game at our fin- 
gers' ends. We knew just when to buy and just when 
to sell. Do you know, I've made as much as four 
thousand pounds in one afternoon, just talking on the 



206 THE BEI^T TREE 

telephone ! And we done it all in that little room " — 
he gazed jealously round the little arbor in the hills, 
and scowled at me. Then he produced a packet of 
cigarettes and lighted one from the stump of the last. 

" In those days, through Gayo's friends, we followed 
the whole course of the raw stuff. Then Gayo went out 
to Malay, and he used to cable me every few days, put- 
ting me on to the right thing. My God, he was a man ! 
It went on for two years, when suddenly a cable came 
to say he was dead — fever, or something, up-country. 
That was the end. The slump came soon after. I 
worked hard, but I never got control back. Down and 
down and down they went, as though Gayo was drag- 
ging them through the earth." His lower lip trembled 
as he rolled the emaciated cigarette over. 

" Lord, what a fight I had, though I sat in that office 
there, in my shirt-sleeves, day and night for months on 
end, checking tapes, cabling, lying, faking, bluffing " 
— he chuckled with a meditative intensity. " I'd have 
done it then, if they'd given me time. But they closed 
in; there were two Scotch firms, and a man named 
Klaus. I knew they meant to do me down. There 
was a set against me. I wasn't there in the end. I was 
sitting in the office one night. . . ." He passed his 
hand over his brow and swept away a wasp that had 
settled there. He sat silent for some moments, as 
though trying to recall things, and twice started to 
speak without framing a sentence. 

" My brother was very good to me," he said sud- 



THE BENT TREE 207 

denly, waving his hand toward the red-brick gable in 
the trees. " He was very good to mo all through." 
Then he added, with a sort of contemptuous shrug, 
" In the cabinet-making he was ; got a little works at 
Bow — made about four hundred a year — married, 
and five children." 

He sat for some minutes with his head in his hands, 
and then he sat up and gazed upon the joyous landscape 
with unseeing eyes. 

I ventured to remark, " Well, I'm sure this place 
ought to do you good." He turned his melancholy eyes 
upon me, and sighed. 

" Yes," he said, after a pause. " You're just the 
sort. I've seen so many of you about. Some of you 
have butterfly nets." He kept repeating at intervals, 
" Butterfly-nets ! " One felt that the last word in con- 
tumely had been uttered. He sank into an apathy of 
indifference. Then he broke out again. 

" I tell you," he uttered fiercely, " that I had millions 
and millions. I controlled the work and the lives of 
millions of men, and you come here and talk to me 
of Naycher. Look at these damned trees! They go 
green in the summer, yellow in the autumn, and bare 
in the winter. Year after year, exactly the same thing, 
and that's all there is to it. I'm sick of the sight of 
them. But look at men! Think of their lives, the 
change and variety ! What they can do ! Their clothes, 
their furniture, their houses, their cities! Think of 
their power ! The power of making and marring ! " 



208 THE BENT TEEE 

" You mean the power of buying and selling," I 
ventured. 

" Yes, that's just it ! " he said, feeling that he was 
converting me. 

" The power of buying and selling ! Of making men 
rich or poor ! " He stood up and waved his thin arms 
and gazed wildly round him. " !N'ot chasing butter- 
flies!" 

At that moment we both became aware that a third 
person was on the scene. He was a well set-up man, 
with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He was dressed 
in a dark-blue serge suit and a tweed cap. He stepped 
quietly through the trees, and went up to my compan- 
ion, and said: 

" Ah ! there you are, Mr. Gateshead. I'm afraid it's 
almost time for your afternoon nap, sir." And then, 
turning to me, he nodded and remarked : " A warm 
afternoon, sir ! " He spoke with a quiet, suave voice 
that somehow conveyed the feeling of the " iron hand 
in the velvet glove." His voice seemed to have a sed- 
ative effect on Mr. Gateshead. My companion did not 
look at him, but he seemed to shrink within himself. 
A certain flush that had accompanied his excitement 
vanished, and his face looked old and set. He drew 
his narrow shoulders together and his flgure bent. He 
stood abstractedly for a few moments, gazing at the 
trees around him, and then, with a vague gesture that 
was characteristic of him, he clutched the lapels of his 
coat, and with his head bent forward he walked away 
towards the building. He did not cast a glance in my 



THE BENT TREE 209 

direction, and the man in the serge suit nodded to me 
and followed him leisurely. 

I clambered down the slope of the wood, and for 
some reason felt happy to get once more upon the 
road. 

About half a mile from Corlesham I met the post- 
man coming up the hill, wheeling his bicycle. He was 
a sandy-haired man, splendidly Saxon, with gray-blue 
eyes and broad mouth. I asked him if there was a foot- 
path to Corlesham, and he directed me. 

" Do you have a long round ? '' I asked. 

" Three or four mile, maybe," he said, looking at me 
narrowly. 

" It's a good pull up to the Institution," I ventured. 

" What institution might that be ? " he said, and his 
mild blue eyes disarmed me with their ingenuous- 
ness. 

" The house with the three red gables," I answered. 

" Oh ! " came the reply. " You mean old Gates- 
head's." 

" Does he own it ? " I said incredulously. 

" Ay, and he could own six others for all the dif- 
ference it would make to his money. He owns half the 
county." 

" And yet what a strange idea," I murmured in- 
sinuatingly. " To own a large house and yet to have 
one's letters delivered in a wood! " 

The postman swung his bag into a more comfortable 
position and looked across his machine at me with a 
grin. 



210 THE BENT TREE 

" Those as has money can afford to have any ideas 
they like," he said at last. 

" I'm afraid his money doesn't make him very 
happy," I ventured, still groping for further enlighten- 
ment. 

The postman gave his right pedal a vigorous twirl as 
a hint of departure. He then took out a packet of 
Navy Cuty cigarettes and lighted one. This action 
seemed to stimulate his mental activities, and he leant 
on the handle-bars and said : 

" Ay, if one has no money maybe one can make one- 
self happy thinking one has. And if one has money, 
may be one can make oneself happy by thinking one 
hasn't." He blinked at me, and then added, by way of 
solving all life's mysteries : " If one — puts too much 
store by these things." 

I could find no remark to complement the postman's 
sententious conclusions, and, dismissing me with a nod, 
he mounted his bicycle and rode off up the hill. 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 



211 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

NED Picklekin was a stolid chunk of a young 
man, fair, blue-eyed, with his skin beaten to 
a uniform tint of warm red by the sun and 
wind. For he was the postman at the village of Ashal- 
ton. Except for two hours in the little sorting-office, 
he spent the whole day on his bicycle, invariably accom- 
panied by his Irish terrier, Toffee. Toffee was as well 
known on the countryside as Ned himself. He took 
the business of delivering letters as seriously as his 
master. He trotted behind the bicycle with his tongue 
out, and wai*,ed panting outside the gates of gardens 
while the important government business was trans- 
acted. He never barked, and had no time for fighting 
common, unofficial dogs. When the letters were de- 
livered, his master would return to his bicycle, and 
say : " Coom ahn, boy ! " and Toffee would immedi- 
ately jump up, and fall into line. They were great 
companions. 

Ned lived with his mother, and also he walked out 
with a young lady. Her name was Ettie Skinner, and 
she was one of the three daughters of old Charlie Skin- 
ner, the corn-merchant. Charlie Skinner had a little 
establishment in the station-yard. He was a widower, 
and he and his three daughters lived in a cottage in 

Neap's Lane. It was very seldom necessary to deliver 

213 



214 THE GEEAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE 

letters at the Skinners' cottage, but every morning N^ed 
had to pass up Neap's Lane, and so, when he arrived 
at the cottage, he dismounted, and rang his bicycle bell. 
The signal was understood by Ettie, who immediately 
ran out to the gate, and a conversation somewhat on this 
pattern usually took place: 

''Hulloa!" 
Hulloa!" 

"All right?" 
Ay." 

"Busy?" 

" Ay. Mendin' some old cla'es." 
Oo-ay ! " 

Looks like mebbe a shower." 
Mebbe." 
Coomin' along to-night ? " 

" Ay, if it doan't rain." 

"Well, so long!" 

" So long, :N'ed." 

In the evenings the conversation followed a very 
similar course. They waddled along the lanes side by 
side, and occasionally gave each other a punch. N^ed 
smoked his pipe all the time, and Toffee was an unem- 
barrassed cicerone. He was a little jealous of this un- 
necessary female, but he behaved with a resigned ac- 
quiescence. His master could do no wrong. His 
master was a god, a being apart from all others. 

It cannot be said that Ned was a romantic lover. He 
was solemn, direct, imperturbable. He was a Saxon 
of Saxons, matter-of-fact, incorruptible, unimaginative, 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 215 

strong-willed, conscientious, not very ambitious, and 
suspicious of the unusual and the unknown. ^Vhen 
the war broke out, he said : 

" Ay, but this is a bad business ! " 

And tlion he thought about it for a month. At 
the end of that time he made up his mind to join. 
He rode up Neap's Lane one morning and rang his bell. 
When Ettie appeared the usual conversation underwent 
a slight variant : 

"Hulloa!" 

"Hulloa!" 

"All right?" 

" Ay." 

" Doin' much ? " 

" Oo — mendin' pa's night-gown." 

" Oh! I be goin' to jine up." 

"Oo — oh! Be'ee?" 

" Ay." 

" When be goin' ? " 

" Monday with Dick Thursby and Len Cotton. An' 
I think young Walters, and Bibbie Short mebbe." 

"Oh, I say!" 

" Ay. Comin' along to-night ? " 

" Av, if it doan't rain." 

" Well, see you then." 

" So long, Ned." 

On the following Monday Ned said good-by to his 
mother, and sweetheart, and to Toffee, and he and the 
other four boys walked over to the recruiting office at 
Carchester. They were drafted into the same unit, and 



216 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

sent lip to Yorkshire to train. (Yorkshire being one 
hundred and fifty miles away was presumably the most 
convenient and suitable spot.) 

They spent five months there, and then Len Cotton 
was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, and the 
other four were placed in an infantry regiment and 
sent out to India. They did not get an opportunity 
of returning to Ashalton, but the night before he left 
Ned wrote to his mother: 

" Dear Mother, I think we are off to-morrow. They 
don't tell us where we are going but they seem to think 
it's India because of the Eastern kit served out and so 
on. Everything all right, the grub is fine. Young 
Walters has gone sick with a bile on his neck. Hope 
you are all right. See Toffee dont get into Mr. Mears 
yard for this is about the time he puts down that pison 
for the rats. Everything O. K. Love from Ned." 

He wrote a very similar letter to Ettie, only leaving 
out the instructions about Toffee and adding " dont 
get overdoing it now the warm weathers on." 

They touched at Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria and 
Aden. At all these places he merely sent the cryptic 
postcard. He did not write a letter again until he had 
been three weeks up in the hills in India. As a matter 
of fact it had been a terribly rough passage nearly all 
the way, especially in the Meditei*ranean, and nearly 
all the boys had been sea-sick most of the time. Ned 
had been specially bad and in the Red Sea had de- 
veloped a slight fever. In India he had been sent to a 
rest-camp up in the hills. He wrote: 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 217 

" Dear mother, everything all right. The gnib is 
fine. I went a bit sick coming out but nothing. Quite 
O. K. now. This is a funny place. The people would 
make you laugh to look at. We beat the 2nd Royal 
Scots by two goals to one. I wasn't playing but Binnie 
played a fine game at half back. He stopped their 
center forward, an old league player, time and again. 
Hope you are keeping all right. Does Henry Thatcham 
take Toffee out regler. Everything serene. Love from 
Ned." 

In this letter the words " 2nd Royal Scots " were de- 
leted by the censor. 

India at that time was apparently a kind of training- 
ground for young recniits. There were a few recal- 
citrant hill-tribes upon whom to practice the latest de- 
velopments of militai-y science, and Ned was mixed up 
in one or two of these little scraps^ He proved himself 
a good soldier, doing precisely what he was told and 
being impervious to danger. They were five months 
in India, and then the regiment was suddenly drafted 
back to Egypt. Big things were afoot. No one knew 
what was going to happen. They spent ten days in a 
camp near Alexandria. They were then detailed for 
work in connection with the protection of the banks of 
the Canal, and Ned was stationed near the famous 
pyramid of Gizeh. He wrote to his mother: 

" Dear mother, eveiything all right. Pretty quiet so 
far. This is a funny place. Young Walters has gone 
sick again. We had the regimental sports Thursday. 
Me and Bert Carter won the three-legged race. The 



218 THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

grub is fine and we get dates and figs for nuts. Hope 
your cold is all right by now. Thanks for the parcel 
which I got on the 27th. Everything all right. Glad 
to hear about Mrs. Parsons having the twins and that. 
Glad to hear Toffee all right and so with love your 
loving son Ned." 

They had not been at Gizeh for more than a week 
before they were sent back to Alexandria and placed on 
a transport. In fifteen days after touching at Imbros, 
Ned and his companions found themselves on Gallipoli 
peninsula. Heavy fighting was in progress. They 
were rushed up to the front line. For two days 
and nights they were in action and their numbers were 
reduced to one-third of their original size. For thirty 
hours they were without water and were being shelled 
by gas, harried by flame-throwers, blasted by shrapnel 
and high-explosive. At the end of that time they 
crawled back to the beach at night through prickly 
bramble which poisoned them and set up septic wounds 
if it scratched them. They lay there dormant for two 
days, but still under shell-fire, and then were hurriedly 
reformed into a new regiment, and sent to another 
part of the line. This went on continuously for three 
weeks, and then a terrible storm and flood occurred. 
Hundreds of men — some alive and some partly alive 
— were drowned in the ravines. Ned and his com- 
pany lost all their kit, and slept in water for three 
nights running. At the end of four weeks he obtained 
five days' rest at the base. He wrote to Ettie : 

" Dear Ettie, A long time since I had a letter from 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 210 

you. IIopo all right. Everything all right so far. 
We had a bad storm but the weather now keeps fine. 
Had a fine bath this morning. There is a man in our 
company would make you laugh. He is an Irish- 
Canadian. He plays the penny whissle fine and sings 
a bit too. Sorry to say young Walters died. He got 
enteric and phewmonnia and so on. I expect his people 
will have heard all right. How is old Mrs. Walters? 
Dick Thursby got a packet too and Mrs. Quinby's boy 
I forget his name. How are them white rabbits of 
yours. I met a feller as used to take the milk round for 
Mr. Brand up at Bodes farm. Funny wasn't it. Well 
nothing more now. I hope this finds you as it leaves 
me your affectionate Ned." 

Ned was three months on Gallipoli peninsula, but 
he left before the evacuation. During the whole of 
that time he was never not under shell-fire. He took 
part in seven attacks. On one occasion he went over 
the top with twelve hundred others, of whom only one 
hundred and seven returned. Once he was knocked 
unconscious by a mine explosion which killed sixty- 
seven men. At the end of that period he was shot 
through the back by a sniper. He was put in a dress- 
ing-station, and a gentleman in a white overall came and 
stuck a needle into his chest and left him there in a 
state of nudity for twelve hours. Work at the field 
hospitals was very congested just then. He became a 
bit delirious and was eventually put on a hospital ship 
with a little tag tied to him. After some vague and 
restless period he found himself again at Imbros and in 



220 THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSIONAELE 

a very comfortable hospital. He stayed there six weeks 
and his wound proved to be slight. The bone was only 
grazed. He wrote to his mother : 

" Dear mother, Everything all right. I had a scratch 
but nothing. I hope you enjoyed the flower show. 
How funny meetings Mrs. Perks. We have a fine time 
here. The grub is fine. Sorry to say Binnie Short 
went under. He got gassed one night when he hadnt 
his mask on. The weather is mild and pleasant. Glad 
to hear Henry takes Toffee out all right. Have you 
heard from Ettie for some time. We had a fine concert 
on Friday. A chap played the flute lovely. Hope you 
are now all right again. Your loving son Ked." 

In bed in the hospital at Imbros a bright idea oc- 
curred to ISTed. He made his will. Such an idea 
would never have occurred to him had it not been 
forced upon him by the unusual experiences of the past 
year. He suddenly realized that of all the boys who 
had left the village with him only Len Cotton, as far 
as he knew, remained. So one night he took a blunt- 
pointed pencil, and laboriously wrote on the space for 
the will at the end of his pay-book: 

" I leave everything I've got to my mother Anne 
Picklekin, including Toffee. I hope Henry Thatcham 
will continue to look after Toffee except the silver bowl 
which I won at the rabbit show at Oppleford. This I 
leave to Ettie Skinner as a memorial of me." 

One day ISTed enjoyed a great excitement. He was 
under discharge from the hospital, and a rimior got 
round that he and some others were to be sent back 



THE GREAT UNIJ\rPKESS10NABLE 221 

to Enn;laii(l. Tlioy hung about the island for three days, 
and were then packed into an Italian fruit-steamer — 
which had been converted into a transport. It was very 
overcrowded and the weather was hot. They sailed one 
night and reached another island before dawn. They 
spent three weeks doing this. They only sailed at 
night, for the seas about there were reported to be in- 
fested with submarines. Every morning they put in at 
some island in the Greek Archipelago, or at some port 
on the mainland. At one place there was a terrible 
epidemic of illness, owing to some Greek gentlemen 
having sold the men some doped wine. Fifteen of 
them died. Ned escaped from this as he had not had 
any of the wine. He was practically a teetotaler ex- 
cept for an occasional glass of beer. But he was far 
from happy on that voyage. The seas were rough and 
the transport ought to have been bi'oken up years ago, 
and this didn't seem to be the right route for England. 

At length they reached a large port called Salonika. 
They never went into the town, but were sent straight 
out to a camp in the hills ten miles away. The country 
was very wild and rugged, and there was great difficulty 
with water. Everything was polluted and malarial. 
There was very little fighting apparently, but plenty of 
sickness. He found himself in a Scottish regiment. 
At least, it was called Scottish, but the men came from 
all parts of the world, from Bow Street to Hong-Kong. 

There was to be no Blighty after all, but still — 
there it was! He continued to drill, and march, and 
clean his rifle and play the mouth-organ and football. 



222 THE GEEAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE 

And then one morning he received a letter from his 
mother, which had followed him from Imbros. It ran 
as follows : 

" My dear IS^ed, How are you, dear ? I hope you 
keep all right. My corf is now pretty middlin other- 
wise nothin to complain of. ISTow dear I have to tell 
you something which grieves me dear. Im afraid its 
no good keepin it from you ony longer dear. Ettie is 
walhin out ivith another feller. A feller from the air 
station called Alf Mullet. I taxed her with it and she 
says yes it is so dear. ISTow dear you mustnt take on 
about this. I told her off I says it was a disgraceful 
and you out there fightin for your country and that. 
And she says nothin excep yes there it was and she 
couldnt help it and her feelins had been changed you 
being away and that. ISTow dear you must put a good 
face on this and remember theres just as good fish in 
the sea as ever came out of it as they say dear. One of 
Mr. Bean's rabits died Sunday they think it overeating 
you never know with rabits. Keep your feet warm dear 
I hope you got them socks I sent. Lizzie was at chapel 
Sunday she had on her green lawn looked very nice I 
thought but I wish she wouldn't get them spots on her 
face perhaps its only the time of year. Toffee is all 
right he had a fight with a hairdale Thursday Henry- 
says got one of his eres bitten but nothin serous. So 
now dear I must close as Mrs. Minchin wants me to go 
and take tea with her has Florrie has gone to the school 
treat at Furley. And so dear with love your lovin 
Mother." 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 223 

Wlicn he had finished reading this letter he uttered 
an excLimation, and a cockney friend sitting on the 
ground by his side remarked : 

" What's the matter, mate ? " 

Ned took a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and 
liffhted one. Then he said : 

" My girl's jilted me." 

The cockney laughed and said: 

" Gawd ! is that all ? I thought it was somthin' 
serious ! " 

He was cleaning his rifle M'ith an oil rag, and he 
continued : " Don't you worry, mate. "Women are like 
those blinkin' little Greek islands, places to call at but 
not to stay. What was she like ? " 

" Oo — all right." 

" Pretty ? " 

"Ay — middlin'." 

" 'As she got another feller ? " 

" Ay." 

" Oh, well, it's all in the gime. If you will go 
gallivanting about these foreign parts en joy in' yerself, 
what d'yer expect? What time's kick off this after- 
noon ? " 

" Two o'clock." 

" Reckon we're goin' to win ? " 

" I doan't know. 'Pends upon whether McFarlane 
turns out." 

" Yus, 'e's a wonderful player. Keeps the team to- 
gether like." 

"Ay." 



224 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

" Are you playin' ? " 

" Ay. I'm playin' right half." 

" Are yer ? Well, you'll 'ave yer 'ands full. You'll 
'ave to tackle Curly Snider." 

" Ay." 

Ned's team won the match that afternoon, and he 
wrote to his mother afterwards : 

" Dear mother, We just had a great game against 
15/Royal South Hants. McFarlane played center half 
and he was in great form. We led 2-0 at half time 
and they scored one at the beginnin of the second half 
but Davis got throu towards the end and we beat them 
by 3-1j I was playin quite a good game I think but 
McFarlane is a real first class. I got your letter all 
right. I was sorry about Ettie but of course she knows 
what she wants I spose. You dont say what Toffee 
did to the other dog. You might tell Henry to let 
me have a line about this. Fancy Liz being at chapel. 
I almos forget what shes like. Everything is all right. 
The grub is fine. This is a funny place all rocks and 
planes. The Greeks are a stinkin lot for the most part 
so now must close with love, Ned." 

Having completed this letter, Ned got out his pay- 
book and revised his will. Ettie Skinner was now de- 
leted, and the silver bowl won at the rabbit-show at 
Oppleford was bequeathed to Henry Thatcham in con- 
sideration of his services in taking Toffee out for runs. 

They spent a long and tedious eight months on the 
plains of Macedonia, dodging malaria and bullets, 
cracking vermin in their shirts, playing football, rag- 



THE GREAT UXIMPRESSIOXABLE 225 

ging, quarreling, drilling, maneuvering and, most de- 
moralizing of all, hanging about. And then a joyous 
day dawned. This liyhrid Scottish regiment was 
ordered home ! They left Salonika in a French liner 
and ten davs later arrived at Malta. But in the mean- 
time the gods had been busy. The wireless operators 
had been flashing their mysterious signals all over the 
Mediterranean and the Atlantic. At Malta the order 
was countermanded. They remained there long enough 
to coal, but the men were not even given shore leave. 
The next day they turned eastwards again and made 
for Alexandria. 

The cockney was furious. He had the real genius 
of the grouser, with the added venom of the man who 
in the year of grace had lived by his wits and now found 
his wits enclosed in an iron cylinder. It was a dis- 
gusting anti-climax. 

"When I left that filthy 'ole," he exclaimed, "I 
swore to God I'd try and never remember it again. 
And now I'm darned if we ain't goin' back there. As 
if once ain't enough in a man's lifetime! It's like the 
blooming cat with the blankety mouse ! " 

" Eh, well, mon," interjected a Scotsman, " there's 
ane thing. They canna keel ye no but once." 

" It ain't the killing I mind. It's the blooming 
mucking about. A^Tiat d'yer say, Pickles? " 

" Ah, well . . . there it is," said Ned sententiously. 

There was considerable " mucking about " in Egypt, 
and then they started off on a long trek through the 
desert, marching on barbed-wire mesh that had been laid 



226 THE GREAT UNIMPEESSIO^ABLE 

down by the engineers. There was occasional skir- 
mishing, sniping, fleas, delay, and general discomfort. 
One day, in Southern Palestine, ISTed was out with a 
patrol party just before sun-down. They were trekking 
across the sand between two oases when two shots rang 
out. Five of the party fell. The rest were exposed 
in the open to foes firing from concealment on two sides. 
The position was hopeless. They threw up their hands. 
Two more shots rang out and the cockney next to ISTed 
fell forward with a bullet through his throat. Then 
dark figures came across the sands towards them. 
There were only three left, Ned, a Scotsman, and a boy 
who had been a clerk in a drapery store at Lewisham 
before the war. He said : 

" Well, are they going to kill us ? " 

" 1^0," said the Scotsman. " Onyway, keep your 
hands weel up and pray to God." 

A tall man advanced, and to their relief beckoned 
them to follow. They fell into single file. 

" These are no Tur-r-ks at all," whispered the Scots- 
man. " They're some nomadic Arab tribe." 

The Scotsman had attended evening continuation 
classes at Peebles, and was rather fond of the word 
" nomadic." 

They were led to one of the oases, and instructed to 
sit down. The Arabs sat round them, armed with rifles. 
They remained there till late at night, when another 
party arrived, and a rope was produced. They were 
handcuffed and braced together, and then by gesticula- 
tion told to march. They trailed across the sand for 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 227 

three hours aud a half. There was no moon, but the 
night was tolerably clear. At length they came to 
another oasis, and were bidden to halt. They sat on 
the sand for twenty minutes, and one of the Arabs gave 
them some water. Then a whistle blew, and they were 
kicked and told to follow. The party wended its way 
through a grove of cedar trees.. It was pitch dark. 
At last they came to a halt by a large hut. There was 
much coming and going. When they entered tlie hut, 
in charge of their guard, they were blinded by a strong 
light. The hut was comfortably furnished and lighted 
by electric light. At a table sat a stout, pale-faced man, 
with a dark mustache — obviously a German. By his 
side stood a tall German orderly. The German official 
looked tired and bored. He glanced at the prisoners 
and drew some papers towards him. 

" Come and stand here in front of my desk," he said 
in English. 

They advanced, and he looked at each one carefully. 
Then he yawned, dipped his pen in the ink, tried it on 
a sheet of paper, swore, and inserted a fresh nib. 

" Now, you," he said, addressing the Scotsman, 
when he had completed these operations. " Name, age, 
profession, regiment. Smartly." 

He obtained all these particulars from each man. 
Then he got up and came round the table, and looking 
right into the eyes of tlie clerk from Lewisham, he 
said: 

" We know, of course, in which direction your brigade 
is advancing, but from which direction is the brigade 



228 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

commanded by Major-General Forbes Fittlewortli ad- 
vancing ? " 

The three of them all knew this, for it was common 
gossip of the march. But the clerk from Lewisham 
said : 

" I don't know." 

The German turned from him to the Scotsman and 
repeated the question. 

" I don't know," answered the Scotsman. 

" From which direction is the brigade commanded 
by Major-General Forbes Fittleworth advancing ? " he 
said to ISTed. 

" Naw ! I doan't know," replied Ned. 

And then a horrible episode occurred. The German 
suddenly whipped out a revolver and shot the clerk 
from Lewisham through the body twice. He gave a 
faint cry and crumpled forward. Without taking the 
slightest notice of this horror, the German turned de- 
liberately and held the revolver pointed at Ned's face. 
In a perfectly unimpassioned, toneless voice he re- 
peated : 

" From which direction is the brigade commanded 
by Major-General Forbes Fittleworth advancing? " 

In the silence which followed, the only sound seemed 
to be the drone of some machine, probably from the 
electric-light plant. The face of Ned was mildly sur- 
prised but quite impassive. He answered without a 
moment's hesitation : 

" Naw ! I doan't know." 

There was a terrible moment in which the click of the 



THE GREAT UNIMrKESSIOXABLE 229 

revolver could almost be heard. It seemed to hover iu 
front of his face for an unconscionable time, then sud- 
denly the German lowered it with a curse, and leaning 
forward, he struck Ned on the side of his face with the 
flat of his hand. He treated the Scotsman in the same 
way, causing his nose to bleed. Both of the men re- 
mained quite impassive. Then he walked back to his 
seat, and said calmly : 

" Unless you can refresh your memories within the 
next two hours you will share the fate of — that swine. 
You will now go out to the plantation at the back and 
dig your gi'aves. Dig three graves." 

He spoke sharply in Arabic to the guards, and they 
were led out. They were handed a spade each, two 
Arabs held torches for them to work by, and four others 
hovered in a circle twelve paces away. The soil was 
light sand, and digging was fairly easy. Each man 
dug his own grave making it about four feet deep. 
When it came to the third grave the Scotsman whis- 
pered : 

" Dig deep, mon." 

" Deeper than others ? " 

" Ay, deep enough to make a wee trench." 

" I see." 

They made it very deep, working together and whis- 
pering. ^Vllen it was practically completed, apparently 
a sudden quarrel arose between the men. They swore 
at each other, and the Scotsman sprang out of the trench 
and gripped ISTed by the throat. A fearful struggle be- 
gan to take place on the edge of the grave. The guard 



230 THE GREAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE 

ran up and tried to separate them. And then, durin 
the brief confusion there was a sudden dramatic de- 
velopment. Simultaneously they snatched their spades. 
Both the men with the torches were knocked senseless, 
and one of them fell into the third grave. The torches 
were stamped out and a rifle went off. It was fired by 
a guard near the hut, and the bullet struck another Arab 
who was trying to use his bayonet. Ned brought a 
fourth man down with his spade and seized his rifle, 
and the Scotsman snatched the rifle of the man who had 
been shot, and they both leapt back into their purposely 
prepared trench. 

" We shallna be able to hold this long, but we'll give 
them a run for their money," said the Scotsman. 

The body of one Arab was lying on the brink of their 
trench and the other in the trench itself. Fortunately 
they both had bandoliers, which Ned and his companion 
instantly removed. 

" You face east and I'll take west," said the Scotsman, 
his eyes glittering in the dim light. " I'm going to 
try and scare that Boche devil." 

He peppered away at the hut, putting bullets through 
every window and smashing the telephone connection, 
which was a fine target at the top of a post against the 
sky. Bullets pinged over their heads from all direc- 
tions, but there was little chance of them being rushed 
while their ammunition held out. However, it became 
necessary to look ahead. It was the Scotsman'-s idea 
in digging the graves to plan them in zig-zag forma- 
tion. The end of the furthest one was barely ton 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIOXiVELE 231 

paces from a clump of aloes. He now got busy with his 
spade whilst Ned kept guard in both directions, occa- 
sionally firing at the hut and then in the opposite direc- 
tion into the darkness. In half-an-hour the Scotsman 
had made a shallow connection between the three graves, 
leaving just enough room to crawl through. They then 
in turn donned the turbans of the two fallen Arabs, 
who were otherwise dressed in a kind of semi-European 
uniform. 

They ended up with a tremendous fusillade against 
the hut, riddling it with bullets; then they crept to the 
end of the furthest grave, and leaving their rifles, they 
made a sudden dash across the open space to the group 
of aloes, bending low and limping like wounded 
Arabs. 

They reached them in safety, but there were many 
open spaces to cover yet. As they emerged from the 
trees JSTed stumbled on a dark figure. lie kicked it and 
ran. They both ran zig-zag fashion, and tore off their 
turbans as they raced along. They covered nearly a 
hundred yards, and then bullets began to search them out 
again. They must have gone nearly a mile before the 
Scotsman gave a sudden slight groan. 

" I'm hit," he said. 

He stumbled into a clump of bushes, and fell down. 

"Is it bad?" asked Ned. 

" Eh, laddie, I'm doon," he said quietly. He put his 
hand to his side. He had been shot through tlie lungs. 
Ned stayed with him all night, and they were imdis- 
turbed. Just before dawn the Scotsman said: 



232 THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

" Eh, mon, but yon was a bonny fight," and he turned 
on his back and died. 

Ned made a rough grave with his hands, and buried 
his companion. He took his identification-disc and 
his pocket-book and small valuables, with the idea of 
returning them to his kin if he should get through him- 
self. He also took his water-flask, which still for- 
tunately contained a little water. He lay concealed all 
day, and at night he boldly donned his turban, issued 
forth and struck a caravan-trail. He continued this for 
four days and nights hiding in the day-time and walking 
at night. He lived on figs and dates, and one night he 
raided a village and caught a fowl, which also nearly 
cost him his life. 

On the fourth night his water gave out, and he was 
becoming light-headed. He stumbled on into the dark- 
ness. He was a desperate man. All the chances were 
against him, and he felt unmoved and fatalistic. He 
drew his clasp-knife and gripped it tightly in his right 
hand. He was hardly conscious of what he was doing, 
and where he was going. The moon was up, and after 
some hours he suddenlv beheld a small oblonsr hut. He 
got it into his head that this was the hut where his 
German persecutor was. He crept stealthily towards 
it. 

" I'll kill that swine," he muttered. 

He was within less than a hundred yards of the hut, 
when a voice called out : 

"'Alt! Who goes there?" 

" It's me," he said. " Doan't thee get in my way. I 



THE GREAT UXIMPRESSIOXiiBLE 233 

■want to kill liini. I'm going to kill him. I'm going to, 
I tell you. I'm going to stab him through his black 
heart." 

" What the hell ! " 

The sentry was not called upon to use his rifle, for 
the turbaned figure fell forward in a swoon. 

Three weeks later Ned wrote to his mother from 
Bethlehem (where Christ was born), and this is what he 
said: 

" Dear mother, Everything going on all right. I got 
three parcels here altogether as I had been away copped 
by some black devils an unfriendly tribe. I got back 
all right though. The ointment you sent me was fine 
and so was them rock cakes. What a funny thing about 
Belle getting lost at the picnick. We got an awful 
soaking from the Mid-Lanes Fusiliers on Saturday. 
They had two league cracks playing one a wonderful 
center forward. He scored three goals. They beat us 
by 7-0. The weather is hot but quite pleasant at night. 
We have an old sergeant who was born in America does 
wonderful tricks with string and knots and so on. He 
tells some very tall yarns. You have to take them with 
a pinch of salt. Were getting fine grub here pretty 
quiet so far. Hope Henry remembers to wash Toffee 
with that stuff every week or so. Sony to hear Len 
Cotton killed. Is his sister still walking out with that 
feller at Aynliam. I never think he was much class 
for her getting good money though. Hope you have not 
had any more trouble with the boiler. That was a good 
price to get for that old buck rabbit. Well there's 



234 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

nothing more just now and so with love your loving 
son, Ned." 

Ned went through the Palestine campaign and was 
slightly wounded in the thigh. After spending some 
time in hospital he was sent to the coast and put on 
duty looking after Turkish prisoners. He remained 
there six months and was then shipped to Italy. On 
the way the transport was torpedoed. He was one of a 
painty of fifty-seven picked up by French destroyers. 
He had been for over an hour in the water in his life- 
belt. He was landed in Corsica and there he developed 
pneumonia. He only wrote his mother one short note 
about this: 

" Dear mother, Have been a bit dicky owing to fall- 
ing in the water and getting wet. But going on all 
right. Nurses very kind and one of the doctors rowed 
for Cambridge against Oxford. I forget the year but 
Cambridge won by two and a half lengths. We have 
very nice flowers in the ward. Well not much to write 
about and so with love your loving son, Ned." 

Ned was fit again in a few weeks and he was sent up 
to the Italian front. He took part in several engage- 
ments and was transferred to the French front during 
the last months of the war. He was in the great retreat 
in March 1918 and in the advance in July. After 
the armistice he was with the army of occupation on 
the banks of the Rhine. His mother wrote to him 
there : 

" My dear Ned, Am glad that this fighting is now all 
over dear. How relieved you must be. Mr. Filter was 



THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSTOXABLE 235 

in Sunday. lie thinks tliere will be no difficulty about 
you gettin your job back when you come back dear. 
Miss SifFkins as been deliverin but as Mr. Filter says 
its not likely a girl is going to be able to deliver letters 
not like a man can and that dear. So now you will be 
comin home soon dear. That will be nice. We had a 
pleesant afternoon at the Church needlewomens gild. 
Miss Barbary Banstock sang very plcesantly abide with 
me and the vicar told a very amusing story about a little 
girl and a prince and she didn't know he was a prince 
and talked to him just as though he was a man it was 
very amusin dear. I hear Ettie is goin to get married 
next month they wont get me to the weddin was it ever 
so I call it disgraceful and I have said so. Maud Bean 
is expectin in April that makes her forth in three years. 
Mr. Bean has lost three more rabbits they say its rats 
this time. The potatoes are a poor lot this time but the 
nmners and cabbidge promiss well. So now dear I will 
close. Hoppin to have your back dear soon, your loving 
mother." 

It was, however, the autumn before ISTed was de- 
mobilized. One day in early October he came swinging 
up the village street carrying a white kit-bag slung 
across his left shoulder. He looked more bronzed and 
perhaps a little thinner, but otherwise little altered by 
his five years of war experiences. The village of 
Ashalton was quite unaltered, but he observed several 
strange faces; he only met two acquaintances on the 
way to his mother's cottage, and they both said : 

^' Hullo, ISTed ! Ye're home agen then ! " 



236 THE GEEAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE 

In each case he replied : 

" Aj," and grinned, and walked on. 

He entered his mother's cottage, and she was ex- 
pecting him. The lamp was lighted and a grand tea 
spread. There was fresh boiled beetroot, tinned sal- 
mon, salad, cake, and a large treacle tart. She em- 
braced him and said : 

" Well, ]STed ! Ye're back then." 

He replied, " Ay." 

" Ye're lookin fine," she said. " What a fine suit 
they've given ye ! " 

" Ay," he replied. 

" I expect you want yer tea ? " 

" Ay." 

He had dropped his kit-bag, and he moved luxuriously 
round the little parlor, looking at all the familiar ob- 
jects.. Then he sat down, and his mother brought the 
large brown tea-pot from the hob and they had a cozy 
tea. She told him all the very latest news of the village, 
and all the gossip of the countryside, and ISTed grinned 
and listened. He said nothing at all. The tea had 
progressed to the point when ISTed's mouth was full of 
treacle tart when his mother suddenly stopped, and said : 

" Oh, dear, I'm afraid I have somethin' distressin' 
to tell ye, dear." 

"0-oh? what's that?" 

" Poor Toffee was killed." 

"What!" 

ISTed stopped suddenly in the mastication of the 
treacle tart. His eyes bulged and his cheeks became 



THE GREAT UNIMPRESST0:N"ABLE 237 

very red. He stared at his mother wildly, and re- 
peated. 

" What's that ? What's that ye say, mother ? " 

" Poor Toffee, my dear. It happened right at the 
cross-roads. Henry was takin' him out. It seems he 
ran round in front of a steam-roller, and a motor came 
round the corner sudden. Heniy called out, but too 
late. Went right over his back. Poor Henry was quite 
upset. He brought him home. What's the matter, 
dear?" 

Xed had pushed his chair back and he stood up. He 
stared at his mother like a man who has seen horror 
for the first time. 

" WTiere is he where was " he stammered. 

" We buried 'im, dear, under the little mound beyond 
the rabbit hutches." 

Ned staggered across the room like a drunken man, 
and repeated dismally: 

" The little mound beyond the rabbit hutches ! " 

He lifted the latch, and groped his way into the 
garden. His mother followed him. He went along 
the mud path, past the untenanted hutches covered with 
tarpaulin. Some tall sunflowers stared at him inso- 
lently. A fine rain was beginning to fall. In the dim 
light he could just see the little mound — signifying 
the spot where Toffee was buried. He stood there bare- 
headed, gazing at the spot. His mother did not like 
to speak. She tiptoed back to the door. But after a 
time she called out : 

"Ned! . . . Ned!" 



238 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 

He did not seem to hear, and she waited patiently. 
At the end of several minutes she called again : 

" Ned ! . . . Ned dear, come and finish your tea." 

He replied quite quietly: 

" All right, mother." 

But he kept his face averted, for he did not want his 
mother to see the tears which were streaming down his 
cheeks. 



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